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« February 2009 | Main

March 31, 2009

Who Else Obama Should Fire

By The Beachwood Bureau of Employment Affairs

Hopefully GM chief Rick Wagoner was just the start. Here's who we hope the president fires next.

* Jim Hendry. For one of the all-time worst trios of outfielder contracts (Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Milton Bradley).

* Bill Gates. Because Windows still sucks.

* Howard Schultz. Because Starbucks' coffee still tastes like burnt toast.

* Mayor Richard M. Daley. For all the obvious reasons, though why object now?

* Brian L. Roberts. Because he's the CEO of Comcast. Approval ratings would skyrocket.

* Michael Jeffries. For being neither Abercrombie nor Fitch.

* Indra Nooyi. Pocketed $14.9 million in compensation in 2008 as reward for spending "several hundred million dollars" to tilt its logo.

* Oprah. Enough, already.

* Glenn Murphy. Enough, already.

* Jody Weis. Because Daley doesn't have the guts to do it himself.

-

Suggestions welcome.

Posted by Lou at 2:03 AM | Permalink

March 30, 2009

The [Monday] Papers

By Steve Rhodes

First, a programming note. You may have noticed how late the column has been getting posted lately, and a bit of a slowdown in other sections. Or hopefully not!

But we've been coping with some tech issues which we believe are now resolved. We've upgraded our site to the newest, shiniest version of Movable Type, which should be of great help to us because we were still running a pretty old version. This should improve performance as well as offer us many new features to incorporate into the site once we find the time and help to do so.

Also, we've had a miserable experience with Media Temple as our host the last couple of years, and they were nothing but hugely aggravating during our latest issues - which were really their issues. We'd like to publicly extend our gratitude to the good folks at Hosting Matters who helped us out this weekend even though we aren't even one of their customers.

We pay Media Temple and yet Hosting Matters stepped in with impressive expertise and responsiveness.

Here's the funny thing: As I furiously rummaged through various forums and threads trying to identify solutions to our tech issues and/or find others experiencing the same kind of problem with their Movable Type publishing system on Media Temple, I came across a thread that seemed to nail it. I sent an e-mail to the expert on the thread and was notified in a return e-mail that I had just opened a support ticket with Hosting Matters! I didn't mean to, but I found that awfully amusing; I was so upset with Media Temple I opened a support ticket with a company that isn't even our vendor.

Hosting Matters turned out to be wonderful, and, duh, it was in their business interest to help out, but how many other companies would have? Not the one we pay! So, of course, we are now seriously considering moving our hosting to our new heroes. We have a lot on our plate right now (ugh, the everlasting ongoing explorations of business prospects . . . one day I'll write a book) so we haven't made any final decisions, but we will give it serious, serious consideration. Because Media Temple really sucks.

All Hands On Deck
* Man Your IOC Battle Stations!

* Blago Story Getting Juicy.

* Top Cop Deja Vu.

* Illinois DNR Takes Page From AIG.

Izzo F'Shizzo
Is there a better college basketball coach in all the land than the man at MSU? Our very own Jim Coffman doesn't think so. In SportsMonday.

*

By the way, if you had followed the Beachwood Brackets, you'd still be in it right now. In a big way.

*

"Smokestacks and fuel storage tanks fill the distance while the roofs of the barns and the backside worker's dorms and Cicero Avenue splay just outside a tall white picket fence," our man on the rail, Thomas Chambers, writes in "Handicapping Hawthorne."

Testing, Testing
Is this the new Tribune?

Our Senator's Secret Evidence
"Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) claims he has proof he never made an inconsistent statement about his appointment to the Senate, only he can't show it to you," Ben Protess of ProPublica reports.

Online Is Hiring
"Ex-print journalists appear to have found a new home: AOL," MediaPost reports.

"As a growing wave of newspapers file for bankruptcy, slash budgets or go online-only, the Web portal is snapping up seasoned reporters and editors to staff its expanding roster of niche sites."

The Beachwood Media Company's business model has never been a mystery and has remained the same from the start; I speak about it often. We have conceived of a stable of sites whereby a couple of sites in particular look to be the real revenue-generators. As the Media Management Center says, news organizations these days have to be "portfolio entrepreneurs."

A lot of other folks are finally catching on.

*

"The popular blog Huffington Post says it is bankrolling a group of investigative journalists," AP reports. "Blog co-founder Arianna Huffington says she hopes to draw from the ranks of laid-off journalists."

New ventures will use the discarded assets of the old ventures to pound the final nails in their coffins.

*

As I've written before, this is a great time for journalists because there are growing alternatives should you find your newspaper shut down one day. Previously in my lifetime newspapers just died and there was nowhere else to go; now there's a better place to go. Yes, the opportunities are still out of balance with the number of jobs lost, but that will work itself out over time. Besides, who's to blame for that? If newspapers had already created these new opportunities themselves, that wouldn't be a problem now, would it?

Socialized Media
"I think the real tension comes from corporations/organizations trying to force their online engagement into a transactional interaction while in the process of relationship-building," writes Keidra Chaney at The Learned Fangirl. Mostly because companies are so focused on the end-game (buy our product! give us money!) they don't spend enough time really doing the first thing on my list, interacting and communicating with the community they are trying to build. They are too eager to exploit the community interaction before it's even had time to build.

"That's why bottom-up, fan-based communities tend to grow and mobilize more effectively, the rules of engagement are different, people want to connect with each other; the end game is the connection, not the transaction."

Don't Be A Chump
Via Consumer World:

* Credit card companies are the new loan sharks.

* The 14 oz. Pint and Other Downsized Products.

* The Secret Date When Airfares Skyrocket.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Bottoms up!

Posted by Lou at 11:52 AM | Permalink

SportsMonday

By Jim Coffman

The Bulls just missed pulling out an improbable win after a great comeback in Toronto (nice shot to tie it over towering Chris Bosch at the end of regulation Ben Gordon!). Later, the Canucks took the Hawks to the woodshed (on their way to a 4-0 win) but at least there was an almost-brawl that included bloodied faces, shredded undershirts and hair-pulling. Oh, and there were two not exactly dramatic NCAA men's tournament games.

But the best part of this sports Sunday was Tiger Woods' charge at Bay Hill. The only other competitor who compares to this guy in terms of willing himself to wins in the last quarter century is that character who used to play for the Bulls, the one who's been statue-ized. I know it's tricky to compare competitors in team sports and individual sports but the Bulls' championships were about one individual as much as any team championships have ever been. There were plenty of stellar supporting players but the Bulls' won because of Michael's indomitable will.

On Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods rallied from five shots down at the beginning of the round. He slipped past a guy, Sean O'Hair, who didn't play great but who played well enough to win against anyone else. Tiger, who was competing in only his third event since major knee surgery, capped it off with a slam dunk birdie putt on the 18th hole for his sixth API championship. My wife and I have played golf maybe twice since my oldest child was born almost 10 years ago. We are hardly golf fans. But we are competition connoisseurs and Woods delivers, dramatically, almost every time he has a chance.

Izzo F'Shizzle
Before we turn away from boring college basketball for good this week (except for that Villanova-Pitt regional final - that was a great game even if I could not possibly have cared less which team won), some kudos must be bestowed . . . mazel tov to Tom Izzo - without you (and Bill Self's Illini recruits charging into the national final a few years after Indiana somehow did the same under the coach who replaced Bob Knight) this would have been an absolutely lost decade for the Big Ten.

Sunday's regional championship makes five times in the last 11 years under Izzo that the Spartans have made the Final Four. And if they could thump Louisville on Sunday, they can certainly knock out their next opponent, a Tar Heels team that was never tested by an Oklahoma squad afflicted by woefully inexperienced and underqualified guards on Sunday. And did we mention that the national semifinal will be played at Ford Field? Just 90 minutes down the road from East Lansing?

Even if Michigan State doesn't bring home a championship, who is a better college coach than the Michigan State man? After Sunday's result, Rick Pittino is out. Roy Williams at UNC? Jim Calhoun at UConn? I don't think so. Kshyshefskzkzi? Not any more. Izzo wins.

Bulls Run
I had a chance to take in the Bulls' big win over Indiana on Saturday at the UC (the one that pulled them within two wins of .500 only a couple weeks after they had flirted with 10 games under) and it was just a great show from start to finish. Los Toros (how stupid was it that the NBA had the Bulls put "Los Bulls" on their uniforms for Wednesday's win over the Miami Heat supposedly in honor of Latino American month or some such silliness - it was such a dumb-assed American move - something I wouldn't have expected from David Stern's NBA) played hardly any defense over the weekend. But they scored enough to knock off the Pacers 112-106 in the first afternoon game and then couldn't quite get the one last basket that would have put them over the top in the 194-189 overtime loss in the second at Toronto (OK, I think the actual score was 134-129 but you get my point).

At this point this team can flat out light it up on offense. Can you imagine if Mike D'Antoni was the coach? Since the John Salmons (two beautifully cold-blooded threes in crunch time against the Pacers) and Brad Miller trade they'd be averaging 150 points per game. It is becoming clear that transaction saved John Paxson's tenure as GM - that and the fact that angry young Tyrus Thomas (the team leader in trash-talking versus the Pacers) is improving and improving and improving. Thomas' blocked shots alone on Saturday (he had seven) were worth the price of admission. And his final block - on Pacer stud Danny Granger - was gigantic.

White Sox Gift
Hey, White Sox, just a thought, here . . . How about Alexi Ramirez in center and Gordon Beckham at short? I have no clue who would lead-off in this scenario (Ramirez doesn't get on base often enough and it would be awfully tough to put someone as raw as Beckham in the top spot) but this would be the way to get the best eight position players in the organization on the field and in the lineup at the same time. And here I am, just giving it to you. Some day I'm sure you'll thank me.

-

Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday. Comments are welcome.

Posted by Lou at 8:35 AM | Permalink

Connie's Corner: Diary of a Bad Year

Have you ever had a rich-looking three-layered chocolate cake and tried to decide how best to attack it? Should you eat one layer at a time? Or skip to the frosting, ignoring layerism? Reading J.M. Coetzee's 2007 novel Diary Of a Bad Year, presents the same problems. Each page is in three layers.

The top one is a series of essays written by the hero - a Nobel laureate author - for publication in a book titled Strong Opinions. His opinions are indeed strong, often very funny, and often very alarming. Many of the essays opine about politics, often those of Australia, as the hero lives in Sydney.

On al-Qaida, he says: "On television last night, a BBC documentary, which argues that, for reasons of its own, the U.S. administration (Bush) choose to keep alive the myth of al-Qaida as a powerful secret organization with cells all over the world, whereas the truth is al-Qaida has been more or less destroyed and what we see today are terror attacks by anonymous groups of Muslim radicals.

"I have no doubt that the main claims of the documentary are true . . . If there were a devilish organization . . . bent on . . . destroying Western civilization, it would surely by now poisoned water supplies all over the place, or shot down commercial aircraft, or spread noxious germs - acts of terrorism that are easy enough to bring off.

"Included in the programme was the story of four young American Muslims on trial for planning an attack on Disneyland. During the trail the prosecution included a home video found in their apartment . . . The video was exceedingly amateurish. It included long footage of a garbage can and of the photographer's feet as he walked. The prosecution claimed that the amateurishness was feigned, that what we were witnessing was a renaissance tool: The garbage can was a potential hiding place for a bomb, the walking feet paced out the distance from A to B.

"The rationale offered by the prosecution for this paranoid interpretation was that the very amateurishness of the video was ground for suspicion, since, with al-Qaida, nothing is what it seems to be."

The author goes in to say that the American prosecutors thought this way because they were taught in the 1960s and 70s that suspicion was the best tool for analysis. He writes that George W., who imbibed this mothers' milk of what makes morality, claims "he cannot commit a crime, since he is the one who makes the laws defining crimes."

Sandwiched in the middle of the page is a running account of the author and his relationship with a very sexy neighbor in his apartment building who he meets in the laundry room. She was a "startling . . . apparition . . . because the tomato-red shift she wore was so startling in its brevity." He manages to hire her to type up his strong opinions. Anya had "a derriere so perfect as to be angelic."

I should mention that the sandwiching doesn't really begin until page 25 when the reader is introduced to Anya's thoughts, which make up the third layer of each page. We find that she knows "El Senior" lusts after her but she decides it is harmless and, after all, her due as the sexiest Filipino woman around. She lives with her boyfriend, Alan, who is a portend of the AIG wheeler-dealers we are now so familiar with.

So now we have all three layers - any one of which can extend beyond one page to two or three. How do you read them? I tried following one layer to its story end, then go back and do the same for the other two. Then I tried reading each page as one would normally do. Then I resorted to doing both - first reading a section from top to bottom and then rereading horizontally.

I found out an amazing thing; Coetzee has you living inside his two main characters and, at the same time, watching how they slowly but surely affect each other. The trick is to let go of old reading habits and join his game. It's worth it.

-

Previously in Connie's Corner:

* "Heavier Than Air." Nona Caspers creates a tapestry of small towns and chronicles the lives of people living there who have a hard time coming down to earth.

* "Pale Fire." Nabokov creates a novel that doesn't seem to have coherent plot but a story that contains a do-it-yourself kit.

* "Out Stealing Horses." A coming-of-age story that reveals a father's secret life during wartime.

* "An American In Iceland." Answering the riddle: how many Icelanders does it take to change a light bulb?

* "The Physics of the Dalai Lama." How Buddhism squares with quantum mechanics.

* "Finn." Some kind of monster.

* "The Master Bedroom." Betrayal, revelation, metaphor, and a swan in a dirty sheet.

* So Long, See You Tomorrow. The powerlessness of childhood and the untrustworthiness of adults.

Posted by Don at 4:37 AM | Permalink

March 28, 2009

The Weekend Desk Report

It looks like our plan to mop up the economy with a super-absorbent towel isn't going to work out, so we'll still be here monitoring the decline.

Change Watch
It was an up and down week on Wall Street as a number of key upsets has people wondering if he really knows how to pick 'em.

Bracket Approval
Despite fully one quarter of his choices proving dead wrong, a Gallup poll this week shows the President's approval rating holding steady. It seems that despite rising unemployment and a complete lack of confidence in the institutions of government, two-thirds of Americans still think Tyler Hansbrough is a stand-up guy.

TARP Heels
Shocked by the blatant gouging on display in some parts of the country, President Obama this week urged Louisville coach Rick Pitino to return some of the points his team scored against Arizona. "Make no mistake," the President stated, "as long as these teams accept government money, we will scrutinize their actions. And that includes the University of North Carolina. Don't think I didn't see Ty Lawson trying to break the backboard against the Zags."

Five Ring Circus
Finally this week, while the NCAA tournament is winding down, it appears in some regions the games are just beginning.

-

In Today's Beachwood
* Beachwood Brackets updated for the Elite Eight weekend!
* TrackNotes: Handicapping Hawthorne.

Posted by Lou at 11:00 AM | Permalink

Beachwood Brackets 09!

Once again the sharpest minds at Beachwood HQ have come together to produce the nation's best brackets. Watch for updates after every round.

Elite Eight
Louisville vs. Michigan State. This is so where the road ends for the Spartans. Michigan returns its focus to making crappy cars - soon on the government's dime.

Connecticut vs. Missouri. Missouri is the only team in the Elite Eight that I did not pick to be there. So they must die. Plus, UConn looks awfully good. Starting to wonder about picking Louisville to beat them in the Final Four.

Pittsburgh vs. Villanova. Villanova takes one more step before North Carolina overwhelms them.

North Carolina vs. Oklahoma. NC is two steps away from delivering the Beachwood Brackets to victories in both its pools.

Sweet Sixteen
MIDWEST

Louisville vs. Arizona. Arizona's iced tea is good and cheap, but we preferred Wake Forest. Besides, Louisville is the real deal.

Kansas vs. Michigan State. We're not saying it's gonna be easy, but Kansas is still rebuilding after that tornado wiped out Wakita.

*

WEST

Connecticut vs. Purdue. Recruiting scandal could distract UConn, sure. But Purdue's run ends here as Big Ten weakness is exposed once again.

Missouri vs. Memphis. Memphis is just a little cooler, a little more rock 'n' roll, a little bit more Southern rock mixed with the hip-hop. Missouri is very Arizona and Kansas.

*

EAST

Pittsburgh vs. Xavier. Coach Wanny can't win the big one, but the big one will come on Saturday against Villanova. Plus, Xavier is whack.

Villanova vs. Duke. It's all about 'Nova, dudes and babies. At least until it's all about NC.

*

SOUTH

North Carolina vs. Gonzaga. We don't like rooting for NC, but tournament rule number one is that you pick with your head, not your heart. Tournament rule number two is that you don't talk about Tournament Club.

Syracuse vs. Oklahoma. Barry Switzer's boys will be ready. The Orange have gone as far as they can go. Plus, Oklahoma takes the Southern rock, mixes it with the hip-hop, and adds a little cowboy.

*

Second Round
MIDWEST

Louisville vs. Siena. Siena did the job for me against Ohio State - barely. This is where the ride ends.

Arizona vs. Cleveland State. How can you not root for Cleveland State? They're nasty. And they'll win, too.

Dayton vs. Kansas. Kansas too much for the Flyers.

USC vs. Michigan State. I really thought BC would be here, but you never know with the BCS. Spartans, baby.

*

WEST

Connecticut vs. Texas A&M. UConn has a date with Memphis it intends to keep.

Purdue vs. Washington. Purdue has a date with UConn it intends to keep.

Marquette vs. Missouri. Marquette dashed my Utah State upset pick by a measly point. All I can do now is predict revenge via Mizzou.

Maryland vs. Memphis. Memphis got a scare, but history shows scares aren't necessarily portentious. Oh, and Memphis has a date with UConn it intends to keep.

*

EAST

PIttsburgh vs. Oklahoma State. Pitt still has a few games left in 'em.

Wisconsin vs. Xavier. Bucky Badger is killing me. I went with my head and not my heart, and look what Florida State did to me, blowing a Sweet Sixteen pick because they couldn't beat a mediocre Big Team, cool campus notwithstanding. I look for Xavier to win this and give Pitt a hard time before bowing out.

UCLA vs. Villanova. Nova, baby. Nova.

Texas vs. Duke. Unlike Wisconsin, Minnesota behaved like it should have in ceding its game to the Aggies. Now Duke takes it one more round.

*

SOUTH

North Carolina vs. LSU. One thing I have in common with the president: I picked NC to win it all too.

Western Kentucky vs. Gonzaga. Gonzaga, but that doesn't mean it will be easy - until they pull away at the end.

Arizona State vs. Syracuse. The Orange are not to be underestimated. For one more round.

Michigan vs. Oklahoma. Okay, maybe I underestimated the Big Ten, but Oklahoma is too much for Big Blue.

*

First Round
MIDWEST

Louisville vs. Play-In Winner. Play-in winners typically get played right out of the tournament in the first few minutes of their first real game, and this year will be no exception. Louisville may feel the pressure of being the tourney favorite in later rounds, but not today.

Ohio State vs. Siena. We're generally against schools named after colors, but Siena will ride a hot streak roughshod over overrated Ohio State.

Utah vs. Arizona. Arizona is even weaker than usual while Utah will represent.

Wake Forest vs. Cleveland State. Wake Forest is nasty, while Cleveland State is just plain nasty.

West Virginia vs. Dayton. The Mountaineers' Bob Huggins is a louse, but won't see his reckoning until round two against Kansas. Don't even think about a Dayton upset.

Kansas vs. North Dakota State. There's a North Dakota State? And they play basketball? Ride Kansas for a couple of rounds.

Boston College vs. USC. BC on a last-second tip-in.

Michigan State vs. Robert Morris. Our Robert Morris? That can't be right. Now, if they played North Dakota State . . . but against MSU, no, no, no.

*

WEST

Connecticut vs. Chattanooga. Chattanooga is so fun to say, but it's not gonna happen, folks.

BYU vs. Texas A&M. I was just thinking, if BYU ever faced up against Utah, who would Chet from the Real World root for? Probably the team with the most virgins. Still, the Aggies aren't up to the task here.

Purdue vs. Northern Iowa. I once lived in Cedar Falls and find it hard to believe that school produces NCAA-worthy teams, but more than that Purdue is one of two Big Ten teams - MSU being the other - with a chance to go deep in this tournament. So Boilermakers.

Washington vs. Mississippi State. Washington wins in a way that won't even be funny.

Marquette vs. Utah State. Wait, there's a Utah State as well as a Utah and a BYU? And they're all in the tournament? What in the world is going on out there in the salt flats? The funny thing is that Utah State will win this game.

Missouri vs. Cornell. Missouri on the march.

California vs. Maryland. The Terrapins pull off a minor upset.

Memphis vs. Cal State-Northridge. Maybe if it was Illinois State-Norridge there'd be a chance for an upset, but no.

*

EAST

Pittsburgh vs. East Tennessee State. I know a Pittsburgh-Louisville finale is popular, but it ain't gonna happen. You'll see why later, but that doesn't mean Pittsburgh goes out early. Funny thing is, after East Tennessee State they'll get Tennessee.

Oklahoma State vs. Tennessee. Pick 'em, but I pick Tenn.

Florida State vs. Wisconsin. I love all things Wisconsin, but FSU will be too much for the Badgers.

Xavier vs. Portland State. Xavier. And not just because I like saying it, or because it starts with an X. Portland State is a 13-seed for a reason, just as Xavier is a 4-seed for a reason.

UCLA vs. Virginia Commonwealth. The Commodores in a minor upset, and Lionel Richie has nothing to do with it.

Villanova vs. American. 'Nova, dudes. Nova.

Texas vs. Minnesota. As much as I'd love to pick my alma mater, I frankly don't see how they stand a chance against the Longhorns. Poor little Gophers.

Duke vs. Binghamton. Duh.

*

SOUTH

North Carolina vs. Radforrd. Radford sucks.

LSU vs. Butler. Louisiana is a state, but Butler will squeak by.

Illinois vs. Western Kentucky. Illinois is a popular pick to be upset in the first round, and I agree. We can read all about the recriminations tomorrow.

Gonzaga vs. Akron. Gonzaga is no longer a surprise, sleeper or Cinderella, but they're still good. Way too good for Akron.

Arizona State vs. Temple. ASU. Because they're better.

Syracuse vs. Stephen F. Austin. Austin may be good, but there's no way one guy beats Syracuse. The Orange are good.

Clemson vs. Michigan. Michigan sucks; Clemson less so.

Oklahoma vs. Morgan State. Don't be ridiculous.

Posted by Lou at 1:55 AM | Permalink

March 27, 2009

TrackNotes: Handicapping Hawthorne

Thoroughbred horse racing was having big problems before the economy blowed up real good. Primarily because of old, bad decisions and now a truly stupendous lack of unity, racing struggles with market share as Americans gamble more than ever.

In this environment, Hawthorne Race Course soldiers on. The last standing beam of Sportsman's Park, just north across the lot line from Hawthorne, hits the Cicero deck as this is written. Although victim of one of the most lunkheaded ideas (let's install an auto track!) ever - it was the victim of a colossal Bidwill, (the Bidwills have made enough of them to get their own noun) - can we really believe or dream that Sportsman's would have survived anyway?

Bay Meadows near San Francisco has already kissed the wrecking ball and days are numbered for its neighbor Golden Gate, and Hollywood Park down the coast.

Hard just north of the Stevenson, wedged between Cicero and Laramie and officially in Stickney, Hawthorne survives because of its philosophy, its people and perhaps the notion that its location does not spawn visions of fairway frontage at Del Boca Vista North.

Hawthorne is all about horse racing. That's why you go there and that's what you enjoy. If I had a kid, at that age when they're consumed with knowing things, like geography or batting averages, they'd be introduced to the Thoroughbreds here. No wagering allowed, of course.

The track was originally built in 1890 by Edward Corrigan, owner of the land and 1890 Kentucky Derby winner Riley. 1902, fire. 1905, racing banned. 1909, Thomas Carey purchases the track and unsuccessfully tries to race, thwarted by the sheriff. There was a 13-day meet in 1922, 25 days in 1925, and Hawthorne was by then off to the . . . The Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap was first run in 1927, not too shabby. The Cup's list of winners is impressive. It includes Sun Beau (1929-1931), Equipoise (1933), Discovery (1935), Challedon (1936), Round Table (1957 and 1958), Kelso (1960) and Dr. Fager in 1967. More recently we have BlackTie Affair (1990), Awesome Again (1998), Perfect Drift (2003) and Student Council (2007). 1918's Kentucky Derby winner, Exterminator ran a walkover at Hawthorne.

As always seems to happen, another fire, this time arson, destroyed the 1959 clubhouse in 1978. The Carey family rebuilt and were back in business by 1980, holding races in the interim at Sportsman's. Hawthorne hosted Arlington's races when its grandstand burned in 1985.

The one-mile (real!) dirt oval surrounds a decent 6-furlong turf course that they're not afraid to use. The first electronic tote board was built in 1931 - while I don't think this is the original, its red brick and light-bulb numbers are definitely old school. There's no infield video (and no annoying and loud commercials, thank you), so while you may watch part of the race on the indoor monitors, you find yourself actually looking out on to the track most of the time to follow the race. Imagine that. I say indoor, because most of Hawthorne is indoors, its traditional grandstand glassed in to protect patrons from the fickle Stickney spring and fall weather. But you can still go outside and hang on the rail on a modest apron. The view is . . . industrial. Smokestacks and fuel storage tanks fill the distance while the roofs of the barns and the backside worker's dorms and Cicero Avenue splay just outside a tall white picket fence. You'll see the planes in and out of Midway, but I don't believe Hawthorne is ever in the landing pattern. The view? You're there for the racing.

Hawthorne has had to close off portions of the plant in response to the smaller crowds it draws. The remaining space bustles with people but does not feel crowded. The first floor is wide open, with the racing services center just off the entrance, a large two-sided bar in the middle and another bar and snack bar to the right. The horsemen's lounge is further to the right, with some individual carrels deployed near there as well. All kinds of tables and stadium-type seating are available. I prefer the Gold Cup Room upstairs where a large buffet ($16.95) anchors tiers of tables, all with individual flat panels, that cascade down toward the finish line. The food is very good with a carving station, omelet station and nice desserts. Plenty of tellers and machines throughout. Very once in a while, the betting machine will spit out a free $5 voucher or a free admission ticket for you. Nice.

While Hawthorne is a race track, it can also be considered a very large Off-Track Betting facility, which it is almost every day of the year, live racing or not. In deference to that, Hawthorne swung a deal with television manufacturer LG and plastered the plant with flat screens just itching to accept the high definition that is on the horizon. It's convenient and cool. You're never really out of view of your favorite track, especially that big one just outside.

Racing Secretary Gary Duch has a job on his hands. He has to get as many horses into each race with the horses he has on the grounds. That demands the creativity to write races that mix up the horses, rather than have the usual suspects always racing against each other. It's tough, especially in the spring. "A lot of secretaries around the country will acknowledge Hawthorne is one of the toughest to write races for in the spring," Duch says. He competes these days with Turfway, Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, the latter two being traditional wintering grounds for Chicago trainers and their horses. "The fall is easier. I love the fall."

The feeling here is that races have been better populated the last couple of years. Sure, you still see the five- or six-horse contest, but that happens everywhere. I find Hawthorne a tough place to handicap, there can be notable track biases. It's tough for closers much of the time. And, face it, these horses run more often than the pampered superstars so who's feeling good that day makes a difference. If you're patient, you can hit a nice profit or an occasional bomber.

You'll see everything from $4,000 claiming races to the Hawthorne Gold Cup and the Illinois Derby (GII). The Derby will be run next week, April 4, and it's difficult to say who will run. We've seen Sweetnorthernsaint and War Emblem (run at Sportsman's), who went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2001. Recapturetheglory, Pollard's Vision, and Ten Most Wanted have also won. It's a race that draws a name or two of those still needing money or a prep for the Kentucky Derby. It was moved ahead of the Derby from between the Derby and the Preakness in 2001 for just that reason.

The Grade II Sixty Sails Handicap for fillies and mares will be held April 18. The Gold Cup and the Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap run October 3 and the Bill Hartack Memorial Handicap, formerly the National Jockey Club Handicap, runs November 21.

With racing the focus, Hawthorne delivers on the handicapping end. The Sun-Times has seen fit to continue running announcer Peter Galassi's (he's a fine announcer, underrated versus the national scene) picks on race days in the last extant coverage by our great metropolitan dailies. Assistant General Manager Jim Miller, Customer Communication/Education Manager Mitch Demick and handicapper Ron Duchman all offer picks and insights on the web site hawthorneracecourse.com every racing day. That's generous picking for any track. Miller and Demick and track personality Katie Mikolay talk handicapping on the Hawthorne simulcast before the card, between races, online and in the half-hour race replay show I watch on TVG. Demick hosts Sunday School with Mitch, a weekly handicapping class and roundtable.

On the contest side, Hawthorne is wired into the Coast Casinos Horseplayer World Series in Las Vegas. Hawthorne is not a member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), so it does not send qualifiers to the NTRA-Daily Racing Form National Handicapping Championship. That's OK, the Coast contest is worth a lot of prize money itself, nearly $1 million. Qualifying in the spring and winning the $100,000 Hawthorne Handicapping Challenge in December will get you there, or you can get there through the Canterbury Park Claiming Crown Ultimate Handicappers Open, which you can play by winning the Hawthorne weekend spring series.

In affiliation with YouBet.com, Hawthorne has run the $100,000 Survivor Challenge this spring. Pick one win, place or show horse each day of the meet and survive and you win. The contest is now closed for this spring meet. The $10,000 Spring Challenge was held April 25. It's a real-money contest with a $20 entry fee, Club Hawthorne membership and a $200 minimum wagering voucher required.

Hawthorne has taken some heat for changes to its Club Hawthorne rewards program. Base level players earn a 1% rebate on all wagers on the premises, less than the one point per dollar wagered before. The more you wager, the more rewards. Wagering $1,000 in 30 days puts you at the Silver level and gets you 2% back on live racing wagers and other discounts. This is where Hawthorne would like you to be and it's fairly reasonable as profit or loss is often quite different than the amount you push through the window. It goes up from there to the Platinum level, where $15,000 wagered in 30 days gets you a 4% rebate. Hawthorne is working hard to compete with online wagering rebate shops.

Hawthorne lost its harness dates for this summer as the Johnstons of Balmoral and the harness horsemen worked a deal to reduce their racing days in the interest of increasing purses on the days they do race. Hawthorne got caught in the squeeze. (Yes, that's the same John Johnston caught on one of the Blagojevich tapes.) The Illinois legislature long ago promised a cut of casino handle to all the race tracks but has failed to deliver. Slots at the track is by no means the panacea, as experience is showing elsewhere, but Hawthorne and Arlington are trying to get them. When the 10th casino license went out for bid, Hawthorne quickly drew up plans for a casino, resort and entertainment complex that, given Illinois politics, probably never had a chance.

But through it all, Hawthorne has focused on what it does best. Horse racing. If you want to get a feel for the game, it's a great way to go

On The Triple Crown Trail
The trail was quiet this week with the lone prep of note being the Lane's End at Turfway. Hold Me Back went wide, closed in and drew off after a somewhat quick pace to take the race, with Flying Private taking second. West Side Bernie is in the Derby if he wants, but he finished fifth. Bittel Road didn't do a thing and finished seventh, Orthodox eighth. Who knows what it proves. I'll say one thing, the flyup from the synthetic track at Turfway is pathetic. It looks like a really old Western where the Black Hat Gang gallops into town in a huge cloud of dust. Looks more like nuke test fallout. I'm amazed the jockeys don't wear masks. The horses can't. It's bush.

This week is the Florida Derby (ESPN, 4 p.m.) at Gulfstream, Big Brown's launch pad to the Roses last year. This year, Quality Road and Dunkirk will get almost all of the attention. Quality Road because he's a quality horse and Dunkirk because he's run two visually lights out races. That's right, two. He did not race as a two-year-old. The last to do that and win the Derby was Apollo in . . . 1882. Curlin tried it last year. The big gray is a fun horse to watch, but in this one his odds will be terrible, so try to beat him. Importantly, Dunkirk has to win this race to get into the Derby because he has no graded stakes earnings. $150,000 is pretty much the cutoff for the Derby. Theregoesjojo also needs the money. He has only $58,000 plus enough for a Metra Zone B Monthly in his saddle bag and that won't get him to the twin spires.

FYI, Todd Pletcher plans to send the rabbit Europe to engage the other pace leaders for Quality Road. I always love it when the rabbit thinks he can win, takes a good lead and then his stablemate has to run like hell to catch him. Rabbits don't always work. Theregoesjojo will also draw some attention, but he should be a decent price.

Eye on Dubai
It feels like it always sneaks up on me, but Saturday is Dubai World Cup Night from Nad Al Sheba, the richest day of racing in the world, highlighted by the $6 million Dubai World Cup (G1) at about 10 furlongs. You'll get it on HRTV or TVG at about 9 a.m. Saturday and it's cool to watch because they have a mobile mounted camera that rolls right along with the horses. You get a good feel for how fast they're going. The between-race snippets of the pageantry are interesting to watch, and there's no wagering on the premises! I surmise the phone lines between Dubai and the London bookies are burning. The six-race card compares to our Breeders Cup with the other five race purses ranging from $1 million to $5 million. So turn off the cartoons, stock up on the Frosted Flakes and 2%, brew some strong java and fire up the online wagering account. It's a fun time.

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Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes every Friday. You can reach him here.

Posted by Lou at 4:42 PM | Permalink

The [Friday] Papers

I saw an excerpt on Chicago Tonight last night of John Callaway's interview with Ron Huberman to be aired tonight. Very interesting - but not in a way that I think Callaway realized.

Huberman is now the CEO of Chicago Public Schools; he was previously the president of the CTA and for two years was Mayor Daley's chief of staff. Before that, he was in the Chicago Police Department for nine years. He has an MBA as well as a Master's of Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. Few know the city's operations as well as he does, and he is so trusted by the mayor that some think Daley is grooming him to be his successor.

Ron knows Rich.

So Callaway asks Huberman about Daley, and Huberman describes the mayor as someone who continues to surprise him with how much he knows about what is going on in every city department - things not even the department leaders sometimes know. The quality and quantity of information the mayor has, Huberman says, is stunning.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Now, as an expert interviewer, you might think Callaway's next question would have been, "Then how could he have not known what was going on in Al Sanchez's Department of Streets and Sanitation and Robert Sorich's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs? In fact, how can he repeatedly profess ignorance to the stream of scandals that have come out of City Hall for 20 years under his nose?"

But no. Callaway, giddily, asked for examples of this wonderful quality that Daley has that would show us the mayor's managerial mettle; Callaway even framed the question as if he was ghost-writing a manual on management.

Wow.

Now, Chicago Tonight just broadcast an excerpt. But if Callaway put the screws to Huberman at some other point, I would think they would have excerpted that to generate some buzz.

Somehow, though, I don't think Callaway's idea going into the interview was to ask Huberman the hard - but routine in a functional media environment - questions about his policies and his boss.

Let's pretend we're writing a management manual! What examples of great management would we include from the mayor?!

Chop Shop
Another question I'm guessing Callaway didn't ask:

Ron, you worked in the police department for nine years, you were the mayor's chief of staff, you led the CTA, he obviously trusts you . . . why do you suppose he didn't ask you to be the police chief instead of Jody Weis?

Hit Man
"He Killed 14 People. He Got 12 Years."

Well played, Trib.

*

John Kass explains it all:

"[The sentence was] not leniency to Calabrese, but leniency to all the other families of other victims unknown, future victims of other killers who might receive some small measure of justice if the law showed some mercy on Calabrese, to persuade men like him to testify in court."

All told, Calabrese could be out for four years. His old colleagues will determine his fate after that.

Green Gravel
Gravel shuns Quigley.

That's Todd!
A Beachwood reader writes:

"I attended a community meeting hosted by Prez. Stroger in Logan Square. He was giving a talk on the various wings of Cook County govt and the related benefits taxpayers receive, knowingly or not.

"It was fairly straightforward: a lot of confusion from Stroger on who runs what and what they do. But the telling part was the open Q&A session which was loaded with planted questions. They were so blatantly transparent that it was hard to watch: a bunch of thicknecks in gaudy suits lobbing open-ended questions like, "What do you do for Cook County citizens?"

"One local rabble-rouser did ask if he would pledge to cut his salary a la Gov. Quinn, to which Stroger rambled off for minutes about how hard he works and some nonsense about the value we get for our taxes."

Amen
From Romenesko's letters page:

From OMAR SOFRADZIJA, editorial adviser, The State News, Michigan State U.: Every time someone complains that newspapers can't do real-time news updates and adhere to traditional standards and ethics, I'd bet somebody at The Associated Press laughs out loud. The AP has forever been filing in real time and following with more thorough, thoughtful pieces via electronic platforms, even when the platform was a telegraph wire. Would anybody seriously denigrate The AP's commitment to quality? And a 24/7 model of news dissemination isn't much different from the "get me rewrite" days of multiple and frequent daily editions, street hawkers and extras. Really, the new model for daily print journalism is simply an old one, using new tools. So why do too many of us act as if the challenge is incompatible with our professional culture?

Bits and Bites
* Finger-Lickin' Good Street Repair. Mmm, fried chicken . . .

* Douche or Tool: Billy Corgan. The results are in.

* Wasted Teen Says Parade Cancellation Not His Fault. Willing to return next year.

* The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week. See who had them.

End of an Era

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Taser-proof.

Posted by Lou at 10:15 AM | Permalink

The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week

1. Memo to the Farrelly Brothers: After you're done with your Three Stooges biopic starring Sean Penn as Larry, could you please remake Whatever Happened to Baby Jane with Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff?

2. I bet you thought I was going to take a shot at Blago's talk radio debut.

Nah, too easy.

3. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) offended my civic pride this week by comparing the use of a 50-vote majority to pass health care reform as "running over the minority, putting them in cement, and throwing them in the Chicago River."

Remind me to take him on a Wendella boat ride when the Dave Matthews Band is in town.

*

Editor's Note to Gregg: We don't have a minority in Chicago.

4. Nobody can say IBM doesn't have a heart. The corporation is telling laid-off workers that they can have their old jobs back if they move to India and work for local wages. The employee foots the bill for relocation but IBM will spring for the cost of the visa.

5. The new poster boy for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is Jake Santis, an AIG department head who quit this week to protest the bonus backlash and then published his incredibly overwrought, self-serving resignation letter in the New York Times.

DeSantis claims he really and truly deserves his $700k bonus, which he's not giving back but will donate to charity, assuring his boss: "Once all the money is donated, you will immediately receive a list of all recipients." (Stop the press.) The real losers, of course, are DeSantis' wife and kids, who now have this grandiose mope on their hands 24/7.

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Twit of the Week: Mariel Hemingway
"i think I got bit by a spider in the night apparently when spiders come to you it is a sign of something good I will ask carl jung"

11:13 AM Mar 24th from TweetDeck

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Look for Stephanie Goldberg's Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week in this space on Fridays.

Posted by Lou at 6:46 AM | Permalink

Douche or Tool: Billy Corgan

"At the moment, there is a great deal of debate over whether Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan is a douche or a tool for having fired or driven away the rest of his bandmates," Mark Arenz writes at Ridiculopathy.

Let's take a look.

DOUCHE: "bc is such a complete thief, liar, hypocrite and fraud, at least jc is basically admitting he's sick of being all these things," writes commenter numnuts at Aversion.

TOOL: "[Chamberlin] can't 'cash the check' but had no problem cashing the check from the terrible Visa commercials using 'Today' and Hyundai commercials using whatever garbage song he and the bald jerk cooked up for an ad campaign for a luxury car. That's the least sacred treatment you could give to your music. Chamberlin turns out to be as full of it as Corgan," writes commenter Dan at Turn It Up.

DOUCHE: "He finally couldn't stand Billy Corgan's egotistical douche bag ways," writes commenter Provacteur at RollingStone.com.

TOOL/DOUCHE: "This is the man who last November berated a fan in mid-set, telling him 'By the way, I like that song that you wrote. I believe it was number one. Take Your Dick Out of My Ass and Stick It in My Mouth'? That was a big hit in Europe," writes Kat Gardiner at TinyMixTapes.

TOOLBAG: "What a toolbag," writes commenter koalafishmutantbird at Blabbermouth.

DOUCHE/TOOL: "So that makes Billy Corgan the next Axl Rose, so perhaps we should expect the frontman (or the only man) to get started on a ten year project that is sure to disappoint," says Music Review Zone.

DOUCHE: "His actual reason for leaving: Billy Corgan's a douche," writes commenter Uwe Blab at Absolute Punk.

*

See also:

DOUCHE: What's Going On In Billy's Head?

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TOOL:

Posted by Lou at 4:26 AM | Permalink

March 26, 2009

The [Thursday] Papers

This is the first chance I've had to comment on Gary Marx's story in the Tribune on Tuesday about the two kids who dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse to his death in 1994 and then became the state's youngest inmates, "literally growing up in custody." It's a must-read.

"In recent years, now in their 20s, they quietly emerged from prison - only to return again and again," Marx writes. "With Rankins' release from a Downstate prison on March 6, both are free again, facing seemingly bleak futures. They've gone years without the counseling some say they desperately needed and possess limited education and job skills. But given their abusive childhoods and teenage years behind bars, the outcome isn't really surprising."

Not surprising, but terribly instructive.

"Their lawyers had argued the two needed to be placed in a treatment facility for troubled youths to have any shot at living normal lives. But acting on the recommendation of state child-welfare authorities, [Judge Carol] Kelly sentenced both to prison with one caveat - that they receive therapy and other services from corrections staffers.

"More than a dozen years later, attorney David Hirschboeck, who had represented Rankins, said the boys never got the help they needed in prison."

The boys were 10 and 11 at the time of Morse's death. They were left in prison to rot.

"Rankins, who has a 4th-grade education and is functionally illiterate, said he learned nothing in prison that would help him succeed in the outside world," Marx writes. "Rankins and his wife moved to southern Illinois near Connie's hometown. Rankins quit his only job after about a month and gave up trying to find work, embarrassed that he couldn't write well enough to fill out a job application. He also said he was afraid of being around people, of not knowing what to say."

Marx describes how Rankins loves dogs more than humans, but Rankins is not without a conscience. And that's what makes the story heartbreaking.

"For his part, Rankins has no intention of returning to Chicago and hopes he can find work as a garbage collector, a janitor or, best of all, working in a shelter with dogs. He said he will never forget Eric Morse and, during the interview last fall, pulled up his shirt and showed off a tattoo.

"Over his heart, a gravestone is etched in black ink with the name, 'Eric Mores 1984-1994.' Never mind that he misspelled Eric's name and missed his birth year by five years.

"'What we did, it was like an unhuman beast that had no feeling whatsoever,' Rankins said. 'And I live with that every day and night'."

The Daley Way
While I was taking another look at Marx's story, I flipped the page and saw a couple of paragraphs I had marked with a pen on the Trib's story about Al Sanchez's conviction.

"The 2006 trial and conviction of Daley patronage chief Robert Sorich revealed that the generations-old Chicago tradition of patronage hiring had continued to thrive in secret since virtually the beginning of the mayor's reign," the Trib reported.

And actually before the mayor's reign; testimony in the trial showed that HDO was formed while Daley was still the Cook County State's Attorney for the express purpose of getting him elected mayor - and keeping him there.

Road Show
"Mayor Daley's out-of-town travel is continuing at a frenetic pace - with 46 trips in the last 27 months, 19 of them paid for by Chicago taxpayers," the Sun-Times reports.

How much did those trips cost? City Hall won't say.

"In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the city Law Department simply supplied a list of the trips and who paid for them. City Hall has said it does not maintain records of trips not funded by the city and that it would take too long to compile bills from taxpayer-funded trips."

How long could it take? Isn't there a file, for example, labeled "United Arab Emirates/Feb '09" with maybe some expense forms and receipts in it?

Daley Strategy
The mayor took a lot of media heat yesterday for his petulant and suspicious refusal to answer questions about Al Sanchez, but Daley and his chief propagandist, Jackie Heard, know that they can "take the hit" for a day or even two and move on because the media will move on as well. That's the problem. The media ought not move on. There's nothing wrong with peppering the mayor with the same questions every day from here to kingdom come regardless of what it is he wants to talk about. Beyond that, news organizations ought to have a strategy for how to cover the mayor, including his continual refusal to answer questions. The mayor has spent millions of dollars on media messaging and public relations advice; the Chicago media probably hasn't spent a collective two minutes developing its own strategy in kind. It's time they do.

Peoples Gas Journal
Let us review, because the story just got even better.

Last month I wrote about my little adventure with Peoples Gas and appended a handful of readers' tales that folks sent in in response.

Here are the key passages I would like to remind you of before I tell you what happened this week:

"So I got a notice in the mail that I had not responded to an earlier notice about a federally mandated meter inspection. Well, I don't own the building!

"Plus, they had my apartment number wrong. Have I been paying for someone else's gas? Is that why my bills went up so much starting last spring? I pay more for taxes than on actual gas! I barely use any therms at all! (I don't pay for heat.)"

*

And me on the phone with a Peoples customer service representative.

ME: My apartment is 3E, or just 3. You have 3A.

PEOPLES GAS: Are there two apartments on the third floor?

ME: Yes. Three East and Three West.

PEOPLES GAS: Maybe we call them A and B.

ME: Maybe!

*

I think you can see where I'm going with this.

*

So on Tuesday I tried to turn on one of my little stovetop burners to fry up some eggs and nothing happened. My gas was off. First I called my landlord, who suspected that Peoples had turned the wrong gas off because a tenant across the hall had just moved out. So I called Peoples and a customer service representative (a very nice one this time) assured me that my account was still active. She instructed me to call the Peoples emergency line and tell them I had a "no gas emergency." I did - and I dealt with a very nice women there too - and they sent a two-man crew over within an hour or so.

We walked down to the basement, looked at the meters, and the one guy obviously in charge said he saw the problem: my gas had indeed been turned off because the meter/account in my name was actually supplying gas to the apartment across the hall, while I had been getting bills for who knows how long for that apartment's gas. I knew it!

How long has this been going on? Who knows! Maybe for years!

How will it be resolved? The gas man will file a report and then my next bill should indicate whether I owe Peoples money from past incorrect billing or if they owe me money.

And if I owe them money, I just might mistakenly send it to another company's account. It would only be fair.

Calling All Chicagoans
All Hands On Deck!

We here at the Beachwood will certainly be doing our part. In fact, we officially invite the evaluation committee to stop by the Beachwood Inn for a beer - on us. It would be nice to chat.

Sweet 16
* Iced tea, Wanny, and Wakita. In today's installment of the Beachwood Brackets.

The Beachwood Tip Line: On deck.

Posted by Lou at 7:18 AM | Permalink

March 25, 2009

The [Wednesday] Papers

I really don't want to write about Richard M. Daley every day. I really don't. I really, really don't. But the man leaves me with no choice.

1. Daley: I'm Not Accountable.

2. "Democrats, Republicans, independents, I don't care who they are," Daley said in 2004. "We don't hire anyone on a political basis. We have never done that in this city."

Writes Mark Brown, who dug up the quote: "Two trials later, we have tons of proof that was patently untrue."

3. "[A]ccording to testimony, the mayor's brother Bill and Tim Degnan, considered the fifth Daley brother, met with Latino political operatives to build the patronage army known as the Hispanic Democratic Organization," John Kass writes.

"Actually, it's the Hispanic Daley Organization because it wasn't about supporting Latinos. It was all about supporting Daley. Bill and Tim - and presumably the mayor himself - gave their blessing, and another giant patronage army was built, financed by you taxpayers to strengthen the mayor's wrought-iron fisted rule.

"Naturally, I asked him whether Degnan and Bill Daley told him about the HDO deal. But the mayor cut me off so quickly, I couldn't even mention the phrase 'racketeering conspiracy.'

"'John, my statement speaks for itself. I'm glad you finally showed up to one of my press conferences,' Daley said."

On Fox Chicago's Good Day Chicago this morning, Kass reiterated that he was attempting to ask the mayor this: When your brother Bill and your pal Tim got together and formed the Hispanic Democratic Organization, didn't they tell you about it?"

It bears repeating.

*

And you never discussed hiring with Robert Sorich, your former patronage director? You remember Sorich - he used to be your brother John's personal driver.

*

And you pride yourself on being such a great manager, but what would happen to a corporate CEO if it was revealed in not one but two trials that company hiring was massively fraudulent?

4. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. on Good Day Chicago: "A lot of people who work for government agencies are fall guys, but everybody's involved."

5. Yes, it would make sense that Bill Daley is suddenly thinking of China instead of an Illinois ballot. (With the usual caveat that Sneed gets it right less often than the proverbial broken clock.)

6. "Clean It Up, Mayor . . . " the Tribune editorial page says today.

Isn't it a bit too late for that?

7. The Tribune's Dan Mihalopoulos channels the Beachwood Reporter.

Mmm, Slush Fund . . .
"Chicago School Board members will consider today whether to double their expense accounts by a total of $88,000 just as the system faces its largest budget deficit in 10 years," the Sun-Times reports in print, but apparently not online.

"Expense allowances would rise from $12,000 to $24,000 annually for each of six board members, and from $19,200 to $36,000 annually for the board president."

Um, have office supplies really become that much more expensive? Don't y'all have an OfficeMax rewards card?

"Noting that board members are not paid, board President Michael Scott called the hike a "good gesture for people who volunteer so much time."

I can think of another pretty good gesture for people who volunteer so much of their time trading on their political connections to gain positions in which they can do the mayor's bidding.

"A small amount of money like that for seven people is the last thing we should worry about when we are facing a $475 million deficit that board members are going to have to spend a whole lot of extra time to address."

Think of it like a taxpayer-funded bonus!

"[Civic Federation President Lawrence] Msall also called it 'outrageous' that the board members don't need to file receipts for expenses."

Wait, so they're just pocketing this money?

""Without a receipt, these are not expense accounts," Msall said. "They are slush funds."

Well, it's the least we can do for those who "volunteer" their time. For the sake of the children.

Now, whaddya all say you volunteer to pay for your own expenses and put that money into a fund to buy our kids new books? Huh? Any takers?

Onion or Sun-Times?
"School evacuated after chlorine-like smell found near pool."

Chicago Tea Party
The revolution will not be metered.

Chicago's Disorderly Conduct
Beachwood legal correspondent Sam Singer looks at the city's unconstitutional free assembly provisions.

MLB Sleepers
Beachwood fantasy sports correspondent Dan O'Shea takes a look at which ones have awaken.

The Capital Song/Jeff Ruby

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Ruby lost a bet.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: A capital idea.

Posted by Lou at 10:34 AM | Permalink

Fantasy Fix: MLB Sleepers, Bye Bye NBA

Most fantasy baseball leagues will have finished their drafts by this weekend, and now that spring training is almost over, it's time to assess what we might have learned from the last few weeks of non-competitive competition and a little thing called the World Baseball Classic.

More specifically, I need to reassess my earlier sleepers, since some of them didn't survive the spring. Regular readers will remember that back on March 7, I posted my earlier sleeper picks for 2009 at every position. And now for some adjustments:

C: Chris Iannetta. I decided to stay off the Matt Wieters bandwagon, and Wieters ended up getting sent to the minors. The funny thing is that I'll now add Wieters as a second sleeper after Iannetta, because he probably will re-surface before the All-Star break, and could be this year's Evan Longoria.

1B: Pablo Sandoval. He lost the 1B job to Travis Ishikawa, who I think is a tad overrated -he's poked five homers this spring, but looks more like the next Chris Shelton than the next Big Papi. My new pick is Adam Dunn. I know, he's hardly a sleeper - as an outfielder. He'll have 1B eligibility this year and probably will play many of his games there. Yet, he's not listed in the top 20 1B ranks at Yahoo! I think he will lead first baseman in home runs.

2B: Mike Fontenot. Finally, I can keep one of my original sleeper picks. Still on track for maybe 175 hits, 100+ runs, 15 HRs and 40 doubles.

3B: Dayan Viciedo. He gone! So, Viciedo didn't make the cut for the White Sox, and Josh Fields is looking very good, possibly even good enough to lead off. What the heck, Fields is our new sleeper pick. 30 HRs, 20 SBs, here we come. Also, keep an eye on Sandoval, who may end up at third.

SS: Jason Bartlett. Basically, still a solid pick, but kind of boring. Emmanuel Burriss, on the other hand, will have 2B/SS eligibility in San Francisco, and could still 30+ bases with regular playing time. Still, Burriss would best be played as a final rounder for your friends to scratch their heads about.

OF: Cameron Maybin, Denard Span, Elijah Dukes. Al Kaline loves Maybin, but all three have been fairly vanilla this spring. I love SBs out of the OF slots, and Brett Gardner, the new CF for your New York Yankees has 40 SB potential, and could score more than 100 runs for this Yankee iteration. Also, Kendry Morales, RF/1B for the Los Angeles Angels, would be the MVP of spring if there was such a thing, and if anyone cared enough. He's hitting .400 right now, and of course won't do that, but how about .325, 20 HRs?

SP: Chris Carpenter, Max Scherzer. I'll stick with these guys. Carpenter looks fantastic, and though Scherzer's role still seems in flux, his Ks are too good to pass up. I'll add Hiroki Kuroda - all too familiar to Cubs fans from last fall, but otherwise underrated. Kuroda hadn't walked anybody this spring as of earlier this week, and is now the Dodgers' Opening Day starter. And what about Sean Marshall?

RP: Joey Devine, Jason Motte. Devine fizzled out early with an injury, and could be a factor this year, but no longer seems like a draft pick to me. Motte, on the other hand, looks like the closer in St Louis. Great stuff, lots of strikeouts - and now saves, too.

Oh, I almost forgot about the WBC. What did we learn from the WBC? Absolutely nothing, except that Japan is still better than anyone when it comes to pitting oddly-built teams against one another in meaningless games.

Around the horn:

* Gordon Edes of Yahoo! Sports has the skinny on several position battles going on around the major leagues, like that battle for Cubs closer. Carlos Marmol may still get the job over Kevin Gregg (we'll probably find out by Friday), but between his WBC fiasco and his shaky outings since, he has probably pitched himself out of the ranks of top 10 relief pitchers, where I had him earlier this month. Right now, I'd say he's a No. 2 RP in just about any fantasy league.

* FantasySourceFastball at the Sporting News has a fun item looking at last-round picks. The best sort of last-round pick, like the above-mentioned Burriss, is an enigma who leaves other owners rifling through their draft paperwork trying to figure out what they missed. Burriss made the FantasySource list, and so did a Baltimore Orioles pitcher whose name I heard exactly once before I read the FSF post: Koji Uehara.

* What, you want more sleepers? A site I just viewed for the first time, Fake Teams, has some quick sleeper picks. The only one I disagree with is Nick Swisher, who probably will not see much playing time as a Yankee.

* Meanwhile, feel free to take a second look at some of my position-by-position recommendations from the last several weeks or so if you are heading into a draft this week.

Fantasy Basketball Round-Up
The playoffs have begun in the world of fantasy hoops, and since I'm fortunate enough to have earned first-round playoff byes in both of my leagues, I'll use the time this week to take a look at a possible first round list for next season:

1. LeBron James. Could have his best season yet auditioning for new employers - not that ne needs to.

2. Dwayne Wade. He's again one of the top 3 players, but maybe has the best-balanced stats of the three.

3. Chris Paul. Assists and steals galore, and outstanding field goal percentage. Will continue to improve.

4. Kobe Bryant. Nothing to complain about, just not better than fourth against the previous three.

5. Kevin Durant. His second year is priming everyone for his third - 2000 points-plus next year?

6. Dirk Nowitzki. He'll be 31 next year, but consistently ranks as a top 5 player in Yahoo! Slump-proof.

7. Yao Ming. Amazing what an almost full season can show you. Well-rounded big-man stats.

8. Pau Gasol. A big-man who dishes assists to Kobe is almost as good.

9. Brandon Roy. Has become an elite scorer, and is on the cusp of greatness with an improving team.

10. Chris Bosh. Sorta fell apart this year, but could fulfill top 10 promise next year.

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Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears in this space every Wednesday. Tips, comments, and suggestions are welcome. You can also find him and his unique Chicago sports perspective at SwingsBothWays.

Posted by Lou at 5:25 AM | Permalink

Chicago's Disorderly Conduct

One can be excused for assuming - given the historically embittered relationship between the Chicago Police Department and public protesters - that the city's municipal code would reflect a hard-earned awareness for the free assembly rights of its residents. At the very least, the code, particularly those sections regulating conduct in the public domain, should be lawful, right? Not if you believe the Northern District of Illinois, which recently held the city's disorderly conduct ordinance to be an unconstitutional restriction on speech and assembly. In doing so, the court brought shame upon City Hall, which has for decades relied on this clumsy ordinance to guide the police department's treatment of public protests. Here, in relevant part, is what the city was working with:

A person commits disorderly conduct when he knowingly:
. . .
Fails to obey a lawful order of dispersal by a person known by him to be a peace officer under circumstances where three or more persons are committing acts of disorderly conduct in the immediate vicinity, which acts are likely to cause substantial harm or serious inconvenience, annoyance or alarm[.]

The provision's language suffers from a number of infirmities. For starters, the ordinance is hopelessly vague, a product in part of its drafters' decision to leave the term "disorderly conduct" to define itself. Then there is its troubling premise, which invites the arrest of a bystander for the conduct of someone in his "immediate vicinity." As to the bystander's conduct, or as to whether he was associated with the disorderly party, the law does not inquire. This becomes all the more objectionable when one considers the modes of conduct that may trigger an "order of dispersal." Here the code reads a bit like the discipline handbook they passed out in junior high. Under the ordinance, you can be held accountable for the behavior of my friends and I provided we're in your immediate vicinity and a police officer, having found our conduct "annoying" or "inconvenient," issues an order of dispersal.

In the case before the Court, the arresting officers found it annoying (or was it inconvenient?) that a group of peaceful protesters at the Taste of Chicago refused to relocate to a designated "protest zone." In dismissing the charges, the court held the City failed to show the disorderly conduct ordinance was "narrowly tailored" to serve its interests, in this case maintaining the public order. Put differently, the city should have crafted a less restrictive way to control public disturbances.

If the case law is any indication, a corrective statute will require that a person being charged with disorderly conduct have either willfully or intentionally caused the disturbance. This would prevent officers from imputing a disorderly person's unlawful intent to someone nearby who fails to take notice of an order to disperse. It also would bring the municipal code in compliance with the First Amendment, which typically won't permit the state to punish a speaker - or, in this case, the peaceful assembler - for the disorderly conduct of onlookers. Even in Chicago.

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Sam Singer is the Beachwood's legal correspondent. You can reach him here.

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Previously by Sam Singer:
* Is TARP Legal? Court to decide on laugh test.
* Taking Government Out of the Marriage Business. Separating church and state.

Posted by Lou at 4:54 AM | Permalink

March 24, 2009

The Maxwell Street Muddle

Like a frog slowly dying in gradually hotter water, the New Maxwell Street Market has been killed off by City Hall and aldermanic indifference, ineptness, and ignorance. But before being boiled, multitudes of vendors have voted with their feet to go elsewhere, mainly to the Swap-O-Rama Flea Market on 41st and Ashland, where fees are lower and management is more skilled.

Empty vendor spaces abound on Des Plaines Street on Sunday, the new site of the New Maxwell Street Market. And the blues musicians have disappeared, too. The explanation is basic textbook economics: higher fees, stifling regulators, and mismanagement. The Mayor's Office of Special Events now runs the Market with Jam Productions as their highly paid co-conspirators. Neither of them know how to run a grassroots community public market and, it seems, neither of them want to learn.

Maxwell Street is a working-class and immigrant street tradition. It is not Taste of Chicago; it is not a Rolling Stones concert, although the roots of both those events can be historically traced to Maxwell Street. The market is based on freedom and the spontaneous celebration of shared experiences in the common human condition of striving to survive. It is mutual aid and street culture. It is not bureaucracy and social control. A well-run public market promotes friendliness, surprise, and authenticity; not contrivance and conformity.

The higher fees were instigated by Aldermen Walter Burnett Jr. and Issac Carothers to subsidize the Jumping Jacks Program (inflatable bouncy playhouses), a program run by Mayor Daley's three former bodyguards.

"Which do you think our precious youth would learn more from, watching how poor people and immigrants work together to run businesses at the Maxwell Market or jumping wildly in those filthy bubbles," says 82-year-old bluesman Frank "Little Sonny" Scott Jr.

Scott, a blues legend, formerly with Jimmie Lee Robinson, Johnnie Mae Dunson, and Freddie King, tries to come to the Market every Sunday to play his blues percussive house keys, but due to the unfriendly Maxwell Street management, plays outside of the market in front of a nearby store.

There will be a Maxwell Street Town Meeting Tuesday, March 24 at 6 p.m. at the UIC Forum. Aldermen and the Mayor's Office of Special Events say they want to hear from the vendors, but I think it is just cover while they put wood on the fire to boil the frog.

Even while being at the Market, city officials are clueless that the frogs are smarter than they are and have essentially already left.

But I agree with a 2006 report, funded by the Chicago Community Trust and written by University of Wisconsin Urban Planning Professor Alfonso Morales, that the market can be revived by taking it out of City Hall and spinning it to a politically independent non-profit community development organization.

I think Chicago still needs a weekly public market. Swap-O-Rama, while a cool and bustling place, should not be the default. It does not allow independent outdoor restaurants; charges an entrance fee; is not centrally located; and has no spontaneous entertainment. I hope that Chicagoans do not let City Hall continue business as usual and kill off this last remnant of our most historic and integrated neighborhood.

Steve Balkin is a professor at Roosevelt University.

Posted by Lou at 3:09 AM | Permalink

The [Tuesday] Papers

A somewhat abbreviated column today as I attend to other business.

Mystery Sanchez Theater
Talking back to the Chicago Tonight's report on the conviction of Al Sanchez.

SANCHEZ: I just did my job the way I was supposed to.

RHODES: Yes, illegally, just like the mayor's people told you to!

SANCHEZ: I made recommendations to make sure we had a workforce that represents the city.

RHODES: And who better to represent the city than unqualified workers who helped elect the mayor!

SANCHEZ: I guess that's a federal crime.

RHODES: Guess so!

*

PATRICK FITZGERALD: He should have understood that recommending [HDO] people was a crime. It was made clear that Al Sanchez was in charge. He wasn't the first person convicted in this series of cases . . . people want to talk about a fall guy, but when you're running the Department of Streets and Sanitation . . . it's on your watch.

RHODES: C'mon, Fitzy! He was running an affirmative action program! Er, wait, he had nothing to do with hiring . . . er, he had nothing to do with hiring except trying to reflect the city . . . er, wait . . .

*

SANCHEZ LAWYER THOMAS BREEN: He got caught up in something where the rules changed.

RHODES: Yes. Thirty years ago.

BREEN: Why should Al Sanchez be the fall guy?

RHODES: Because that's how the Daley administration operates?

BREEN: I don't understand why Al Sanchez was singled out.

RHODES: I know. You'd think they'd go after Robert Sorich or something.

BREEN: This was done every day in every department.

RHODES: Are you turning state's evidence?

BREEN: Why does someone have to wear the jacket?

RHODES: Tradition?

BREEN: Why is the federal government Johnny-come-lately on this?

RHODES: I know! What has Patrick Fitzgerald been doing all this time?

*

DALEY STATEMENT: I have never supported any illegal activity.

RHODES: Publicly.

DALEY: We now have an inspector general.

RHODES: Whom I keep cutting off at the knees.

DALEY: These are things that happened years ago.

RHODES: When I was still consolidating power.

DALEY: Things are different now.

RHODES: We've changed in these last few weeks.

DALEY: I feel for Al Sanchez and his family.

RHODES: On the other hand, I feel nothing for the people who merited city jobs but didn't get 'em. If they refused to play ball, that's their problem. Wait, did I say that out loud or just think it?

*

FITZGERALD: Maybe the most qualified person should get the job. It's not crazy.

RHODES: It's just not the Chicago Way. Plus, this way we know that our garbage will be picked up and our potholes filled . . . er, wait a minute . . .

*

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It's an ongoing case.

RHODES: It only has one way to go - up.

Train in Vain
Beachwood reader Michael O'Connor responds to item 14 (World's Largest Model Train Set):

Where is Chicago's authentic model railroad, complete with slow zones, outdated rolling stock, 110 year-old Elevated, where derailed trains hang from the structure, black smoke billowing from the Blue Line Subway, trains to Midway that stop running at 11 p.m., a Congress Line with more than 50 percent of the stations closed and abandoned, etc. etc.?
Does anyone remember that the world's first electric mass transit using a third rail power source was displayed by the intramural rail system inside the World's Fair in 1893? The train that brought visitors to the Fair was pulled by a black smoke-belching Locomotive. The future was displayed at the Fair. But in that city, 114 years later, we have not moved a micron forward in transit technology.

What the Helen?
Helen Shiller turned to the dark side a long time ago, but wow, she's even worse than I imagined.

Return Enragement
From CAN TV:

Just a reminder that the Journalism Town Hall will be cablecast in Chicago this Sunday, March 29 at 10:30 a.m. on cable channel CAN TV21. Replay dates and times are:

* Monday, March 30th at 8:00 a.m. on cable channel CAN TV19

* Friday, April 3rd at 12:00 p.m. on cable channel CAN TV21

The Beachwood Tip Line: Rules-changing.

Posted by Lou at 1:58 AM | Permalink

March 23, 2009

The [Monday] Papers

1. I've got 14 of my Sweet 16 still alive in my brackets, yet I'm in fifth place (out of seven) in one pool; haven't heard yet where I am in my other pool. It's that kind of year. The key for me is Villanova going to the Final Four and North Carolina winning it all. Check out the Beachwood Brackets; they're suspiciously just like mine.

2. "[A]ided by increased cross-platform marketing, CBSSports.com has already broken last year's streaming media totals for its March Madness on Demand video player. paidContent has obtained the numbers for the first three days."

In short, the numbers are huge.

3. "Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich once bragged of his 'testicular virility' for standing-up to his father-in-law, Chicago Ald. Dick Mell, over a landfill deal," the SouthtownStar editorial page says today.

"We think Quinn, by introducing an income tax increase, earns that distinction."

4. "Asked about the protests," the Tribune reports, "Daley said the opposition [to the Olympics] might be premature because Chicago has not yet been selected."

5. Even more maddening than the mayor's fuzzy-headed logic - and the Trib's apparent failure to ask the obvious follow-up question - is this:

"[Chicago officials] say support remains strong, with 77 percent of Chicago residents backing the Games in a survey they commissioned in October."

Why?

Because just last month the Tribune reported that its own poll "showed less support than previous polls sponsored by Olympics backers" and that "When the Tribune asked about using taxes to cover any Olympics deficits, 75 percent were opposed and 23 percent were in favor. Most of those surveyed - 54 percent - also did not believe that private money would cover all the costs."

Why publish propaganda instead of your own reporting?

6. Chicago bid now in last place.

Our advice for getting the bid back on track.

7. "The community knows where the drug deals are," Daley said. "The community knows where the gang-bangers are."

Yes, apparently in charge of the Hired Truck program.

8. From the Investigative Reporters & Editors listerv:

The following Government Conference on Openness and Transparency is CLOSED to members of the public and the press:

Upcoming Conference Providing Guidance on President Obama's and Attorney General Holder's Memoranda on the Freedom of Information Act

On March 26, 2009, the Office of Information Policy (OIP), Department of Justice, will host a government-wide training conference to discuss President Obama's and Attorney General Holder's Memoranda which establish a new era of open government.

When: March 26, 2009
Where: Department of Commerce's Auditorium
Time: 10:00 - 12:00 noon
Who should attend: Agency Chief FOIA Officers, Agency Principal FOIA Contacts and FOIA Public Liaisons

No pre-registration is required. However, you must present your Government ID to attend the training.

9. Green Chicago Gets A Black Eye.

10. The Mayor's Missing Gifts.

11. When the Empress casino in Joliet burst into flames last week, the Sun-Times put it on the front page under the headline "Hot Slots." Over the weekend, the paper followed up with a story headlined "It's Roll Of The Dice When Joliet Casino Will Reopen."

Please stop.

*

Trib story on Sunday: "Fire Does Little To Casino."

12. "Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to cut his annual salary and hand it back to taxpayers means he will make less money than Mayor Daley's press secretary," Sneed reports.

Quinn is giving $25,000 of his salary "back into government and nonprofit organizations."

Here's an idea: Maybe Jody Weis can show some support for his officers by giving back part of his salary to make up for theirs.

13. "The city knows nothing about parking meters, and that's why it was important to get out of it," Daley said over the weekend.

Well, tell me Mr. Mayor, what does the city know about traffic, public health, finance or hiring police chiefs? I mean, really. If the city knows anything, it knows parking meters. That's what cities do.

14. World's Largest Model Train Set.

15. Feel the fire!

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Fireproof.

Posted by Lou at 11:16 AM | Permalink

Our Olympic Advice

With news that Chicago's Olympic bid has fallen to last place in GamesBids.com's BidIndex, the Beachwood Bid Bureau did some digging and dialing and learned that the city ought to seriously consider each of the following if it wants to get its bid back on track.

* Fire Jody Weis. Even the IOC doesn't like him.

* Put Eddie Vrdolyak in charge. The IOC likes his style; plus it's always nice to have a judge or two in your pocket.

* Re-hire Al Sanchez. And put him in charge of trash, alleys and rats. But not personnel.

* Green-light cameras. Red-light cameras are just too negative.

* Put up Millennium Park as collateral. Just in case those rosy predictions don't quite come through.

* Bring Jerry Springer's show back to town. He's really big in France.

* Let IOC members write tickets too. Seems like everyone else can these days.

* Insert Olympic earmarks into the federal budget. Duh.

* Share more equitably. The mayor's brothers shouldn't get all the insurance, legal and financial business.

* Fire some members of the Tribune editorial board. Just don't get caught on tape talking about it.

* Hold most events in L.A. and New York. Would make coming to America a lot more fun.

* Chicago 2020!

Posted by Lou at 9:19 AM | Permalink

SportsMonday: Hawk Playoff Prep & Anti-Big Dance

The Hawks finally broke through at home on Sunday, edging the Kings 2-1 (OK, OK it was 4-1 but empty-netters like the two the Hawks scored in the last minute-and-a-bit against L.A. should somehow be listed in a separate category). In so doing they moved back into the fourth playoff spot in the NHL's Western Conference, by two points over Vancouver with 11 games left in the regular season. If the season ended today, the Hawks would play the first game of the first round of the playoffs at home . . . which is probably good news.

Then again, as my wife Julie put it as we turned on the game in the afternoon, "People keep talking about the race for home ice advantage . . . but the Blackhawks stink at home." The squad was 4-7-2 in their last 13 on the West Side going into Sunday.

And now, without further delay, allow me to extend a hearty "Welcome Back!" to Patrick Sharp. The return of the team's best scorer, who had been sidelined by a knee injury since Valentine's Day, was remarkably restorative for the whole team. He scored the first goal in the first period and eventually banked a slick clearing effort off the side boards late in the third. It slid all the way down the ice, off one post, across the goal line and off the back of the other post and in for the game-clinching first empty-netter. Sharp also threaded a perfect pass to Martin Havlat to set up the eventual game-winner in the second period.

Khabi's Call
Two days prior to Sunday, I had a chance to attend the Hawks' loss to an Edmonton team they had dominated several times earlier in the season. Before the game, it seemed the stage was set for the home team to bust out of its recent malaise. Then again, it had been set before games against the Western Conference worst Avalanche and the almost league-worst New York Islanders the weekend and week before and the Blackhawks found ways to lose those games as well.

Friday's bottom line was that if goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin had made even one unexpected big save he would have given his team the win. The Oilers had no more than five strong scoring chances and four went in. Khabibulin has looked like the Khabibuin of old of late. He has given up just enough goals to send games into overtime and he wasn't close to making a big save during the shootout either on Friday.

As for the atmosphere, there was a little bit of booing, especially in the third period, but mostly there was a nervous murmur from the first Edmonton goal early in the first period until it became clear that despite Jonathan Toews' failure to convert a third-period penalty shot, coach Joel Quenneville was still sending him out for the first attempt in the shootout. Toews didn't even get a shot off, Patrick Kane didn't do much better in the second round and when Edmonton's second straight shooter converted, the game was over just like that.

One other note: there were many, many people in the stands crying out for more physical play. Of course, when the Hawks do try to get physical, they put themselves in position to spend more time in the penalty box. Still the ideal scenario is probably lots of physicality right off the bat and, if need be, at least a couple solid penalty kills.

The bottom line about Sunday's breakthrough: The Hawks allowed only five shots against in the first period, five more in the second and five in the final 20 minutes. Khabibulin had only a few tough chances, one of which slipped through his pads. If he gets hot, the Hawks have a chance to storm through the last few weeks of the regular season. If not, it will be one (series) and done in the post-season.

Busting Brackets
How lame is it that the one non-top five seeded team left in the whole NCAA tournament is Arizona? Of course, the selection process is so rigged in favor of the major conferences it isn't surprising that this year's only Sweet 16 Cinderella is one of the most successful college basketball programs in the country, i.e. it has been to the ball, what, 20 times in a row before this year? Pathetic. Of course, this is what you get when you only let in the bare minimum mid-major teams (fewer and fewer George Masons and Cleveland States are qualifying year after year because fewer of those sorts of teams are even getting into the tournament. And even when the teams make it in, they are under-seeded. Perhaps a few more people would care to join me in anti-Big Dance-land this week?

On Fire
Welcome back Chicago Fire! The local soccer squad opened its season with a 3-1 victory over FC Dallas in Dallas Saturday. The home team scored the first goal on an amazing shot from beyond the field's center line, but the Fire bounced back to take the lead on a Brian McBride penalty kick. The boys from Chicago benefited mightily from not one but two shots that found the woodwork (around the goal don't you know, i.e. the posts and crossbar) in the last 10-15 minutes. And then Cuauhtemoc Blanco capped it off with a beautiful, curving direct kick goal in the final minute.

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Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday. Comments are welcome.

Posted by Lou at 8:55 AM | Permalink

Trivial Pursuit: Music Choice Edition

Rock's real secret history, as gleaned from the trivia bits on Comcast Cable's "Music Choice" channels.

New this edition: Fun facts about Merle Haggard, Gnarls Barkley, Britney Spears and more!

1. Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" was never released as a single.

2. Early in his career, the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones performed as Elmo Lewis.

3. Cat Stevens went to Catholic school.

4. England Dan and John Ford Coley's "Love is the Answer" was written by Todd Rundgren.

5. Barbra Streisand is the best selling female recording artist of all time.

6. Steve Miller was born in Milwaukee.

7. Pure Prairie League released Firin' Up in 1980.

8. John Denver's father was a U.S. Air Force officer.

9. In 1969, Jimmy Buffett moved to Nashville to start his music career.

10. Rare Earth was formed from the ashes of the band the Sunliners.

11. The DeFranco Family was modeled after the Osmonds and sponsored by the publishers of Tiger Beat.

12. "Mandy" was the first in a string of 25 consecutive Top 40 hits for Barry Manilow. 25!

13. The Eagles were formerly backup musicians for Linda Ronstadt.

14. Tony Orlando was a general manager at Columbia Records.

15. Though they started out as a five-piece, the O'Jays enjoyed most of their success as a trio.

16. Bill Withers joined the U.S. Navy when he was 17 and served for nine years.

17. The Spinners were named after the chrome wheels on tenor Bobbie Smith's car.

18. Eric Carmen is a classically trained pianist/guitarist.

19. "Rockestra Theme" by Paul McCartney and Wings won the 1979 Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental.

20. In 1999 Katrina left the Waves to pursue a career as a DJ and a solo artist.

21. Photographs of 2Pac's autopsy were never officially released, though they were leaked on the Internet.

22. Edison's wax cylinder phonograph was patented in 1886.

23. DJ Todd Storz created the "Top 40" in '49 after noting that fans would repeatedly play the same songs on the jukebox.

24. The first Walkman went on sale in July 1979.

25. Ray Charles' favorite dessert was sweet potato pie.

26. Lily Allen sang "Heart of Glass" with Debbie Harry for the Today show last May.

27. Avril Lavigne sang in church choirs, local festivals and county fairs before she secured a record deal.

28. Justin Timberlake inducted the O'Jays into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

29. Huey Lewis briefly attended Cornell University and studied engineering.

30. Ted Nugent claims to be ignorant of drug references in the Amboy Dukes' "Journey to the Center of the Mind." (Nugent is a lifetime member of Drug Abuse Resistance Education; he also played a drug dealer in a 1984 episode of Miami Vice.)

31. Emerson, Lake and Palmer ended their performance at the Isle of Wight festival by shooting cannons on both sides of the stage.

32. Pete Townshend helped design the now ubiquitous 100-watt Marshall amp stack.

33. Neil Young's early band, the Mynah Birds, featured future super freak Rick James.

34. Cream's "Badge" was co-written with George Harrison.

35. Macy Gray performed at President George W. Bush's inauguration in January 2005.

36. John Mellencamp suffered a major heart attack in 1994.

37. Bad Company named themselves after the 1972 Robert Benton film of the same name.

38. Journey's second drummer, Aynsley Dunbar, was a member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention.

39. Elvin Bishop was once jailed for stealing a preacher's jacket from a restaurant.

40. The Compact Disc premiered in England in 1983.

41. Smokey Robinson was born William Robinson.

42. Conway Twitty was awarded the Amusement and Music Operators of America Jukebox Award in 1989.

43. Jim Croce recorded background vocals for television commercials.

44. Carly Simon's father co-founded Simon & Schuster.

45. Though no soundtrack was released, Cat Stevens contributed songs to Harold & Maude.

46. England Dan became a country act after he split with John Ford Coley.

47. Barry White co-produced the 1950s hit "Harlem Shuffle" record by doo-wop duo Bob & Earl.

48. Rush's Geddy Lee was born Geddy Lee Winerib.

49. The Steve Miller Band backed Chuck Berry at the Fillmore.

50. There have been over 20 members of Lynyrd Skynyrd during the band's career.

51. Joe Walsh has provided guitar tracks for Ringo Starr, Richard Marx, Keith Moon and The Simpsons.

52. In 2005 Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page was named an Officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

53. On Sept. 6, 2003 Bruce Springsteen played the first concert at Boston's Fenway Park in its 91-year history.

54. Manager Chas Chandler convinced Slade to adopt a skinhead look as a gimmick.

55. Steve Miller was a session musician for Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and others.

56. Sugarloaf was originally known as Chocolate Hair.

57. The Eagles' Desperado was a concept album about outlaws.

58. Jimi Hendrix was discharged from the Army after being injured during a parachute jump.

59. T. Rex's Marc Bolan was born Marc Feld.

60. Eddie Money was born Eddie Mahoney.

61. Jackson Browne co-wrote the Eagles' hit "Take It Easy."

62. The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones had fathered two illegitimate children by age 16.

63. Stevie Wonder wrote Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good." [Actually written for Khan but recorded with her band, Rufus]

64. Dire Strait's Mark Knopfler wrote the Tina Turner comeback hit "Private Dancer."

65. Styx's Tommy Shaw was once a member of MS Funk.

66. Blue Oyster Cult's iconic hook and cross logo was designed by artist Bill Gawlick.

67. Heminevrin, the drug that killed The Who's Keith Moon, was actually prescribed to combat his alcoholism.

68. Foghat's debut album was largely produced by Dave Edmunds, but includes tracks produced by Todd Rundgren.

69. In 1967, Norman Greenbaum retired from the music industry to run a dairy farm in California.

70. Billy Joel briefly wrote record reviews for Changes magazine.

71. The Clash's Joe Strummer was born John Graham Mellor.

72. Glenn Danzig contributed two songs to the Less Than Zero soundtrack (1987).

73. The Who's Keith Moon died in the same apartment that Mama Cass died in four years earlier.

74. Entertainment Weekly listed Alice Cooper's "School's Out" among its list of "Top 10 Greatest Summer Songs."

75. Queen's Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar, Africa.

76. Linda Ronstadt attended Arizona State University.

77. Paul McCartney appeared on the Steve Miller Band's "My Dark Hour" under the alias Paul Ramon.

78. Mott the Hoople's "All The Young Dudes" was written by David Bowie.

79. Buddy Guy suggested to Steve Miller that he call his band the Steve Miller Band.

80. Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant suffered the tragedy of losing his son Karac to a stomach infection in 1977.

81. Deep Purple was originally called Roundabout.

82. Blue Oyster Cult originally went by the name Soft White Underbelly.

83. Kiss' Gene Simmons was born in Haifa, Israel.

84. Bad Company was the first band signed to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label.

85. Bob Welch appeared on five albums by Fleetwood Mac before leaving the band in 1975.

86. The Beatles' Paul McCartney was born James Paul McCartney.

87. Wal-Mart is the largest music retailer in the U.S.

88. Black Sabbath took their title from the Boris Karloff film of the same name.

89. Before joining Metallica, drummer Lars Ulrich was originally interested in a career as a pro tennis player.

90. In 1990, Billy Joel played the first rock concert in the history of New York's Yankee Stadium.

91. Supertramp turned down Greyhound's request to use "Take The Long Way Home" in bus commercials.

92. Van Morrison was publicly silent between 1974 and 1977.

93. Carole King was part of the Brill Building stable of songwriters in the 60s.

94. Joe Walsh attended Kent State University.

95. Steely Dan alumnus Michael McDonald joined the Doobie Brothers in 1975.

96. Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones was a session musician and appeared on albums by George Harrison.

97. Bachman-Turner Overdrive officially changed their name to BTO in 1978.

98. Gary "Dream Weaver" Wright played keyboards on George Harrison's Cloud Nine.

99. Avril Lavigne is a proud supporter of Amnesty International's Make Some Noise campaign.

100. The Cars' Benjamin Orr was born Benjamin Orzechowski.

101. The Osmonds earned more Gold records in a single year than any other group in history.

102. Sister Sledge was originally known as Mrs. William's Grandchildren.

103. After Hank Williams' death in 1953, Ray Price inherited his band, the Drifting Cowboys.

104. Journey's Steve Perry was previously a member of Alien Project.

105. Michelle Shocked graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Oral Interpretation of Literature.

106. In 2003, Jay-Z became the first hip-hop star to ever have his own live televised concert special.

107. Before deciding to pursue music, Blues Traveler's John Popper considered a career as a comedian.

108. The Allman Brothers Band formed in Macon, Georgia in 1969.

109. Deep Purple's Jon Lord played keyboards on the Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

110. Manfred Mann was born Manfred Lubowitz.

111. Billy Squier was a member of the Psychedelic Supermarket in 1968.

112. Phil Collins can be seen briefly in the 1964 Beatles film A Hard Day's Night.

113. X's debut album, Los Angeles, was engineered and produced by ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek.

114. John Denver moved to Los Angeles when he was 20 to pursue a career in music.

115. Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones was born John Baldwin.

116. Joe Cocker provided the theme songs for 9 1/2 Weeks, Bull Durham, and An Innocent Man.

117. Amy Winehouse cites Ray Charles as a major influence.

118. Green Day was nominated for the International Album of the Year at the 2005 Juno Awards.

119. Anne Murray taught physical education at a high school in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

120. Jimmy Cliff recorded a duet with Elvis Costello for the soundtrack to Club Paradise.

121. LeAnn Rimes started singing before age 2.

122. Boz Scaggs was born William Royce Scaggs.

123. Kid Rock's real name is Robert James Ritchie.

124. Lita Ford started playing guitar at age 11.

125. John Mellencamp studied Broadcast Journalism at Vincennes University.

126. Elvis Costello's "Accidents Will Happen" was influenced by a Dusty Springfield song.

127. Amy Winehouse founded a group called Sweet 'n' Sour at age 10.

128. An estimated 14,000 people attended the wedding of Hank Williams and Billie Jean Eshliman.

129. The Who released one single under the name The High Numbers.

130. Barry Manilow worked in the CBS mailroom while attending college.

131. Meat Loaf earned his nickname in childhood due to his size.

132. Rod Stewart was a member of the Jeff Beck Group.

133. Tammy Wynette moved to Nashville with no job and three small children in 1966.

134. Before his rap career, Biggie had dreams of becoming a dentist or a graphic artist.

135. Rush formed as Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, and John Rutsey.

136. Grand Funk Railroad's Mel Schacher was previously a member of ? and the Mysterians.

137. Nilsson was one of the hundreds of musicians who tried out for the Monkees.

138. A teacher once told Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie he had no talent whatsoever.

139. Sept. 3, 1988 marked Triumph's last performance with all the band's original members.

140. Kelly Clarkson's middle name is Brianne.

141. Acclaimed NY artist Jean-Michel Basquiat made an appearance in Blondie's "Rapture" video.

142. Bruce Springsteen achieved his seventh No. 1 album with Devils & Dust in 2005.

143. Duran Duran were joined onstage by Lou Reed at New York City show in 1987.

144. Cream's Jack Bruce was previously a member of Manfred Mann.

145. The Spinners sang in the "Philly Soul" style even though they were from Detroit.

146. Kool & the Gang's George Brown took on a paper route in order to buy his first set of drums.

147. Aerosmith's Joe Perry was born Anthony Joseph Perry.

148. Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" reached No. 9 on Billboard's pop singles chart in 1979.

149. Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett is seven feet tall.

150. Concrete Blonde called themselves Dream 6 before signing to I.R.S. in 1985.

151. Warrant's Erik Turner enjoys spending his spare time with his family and playing golf.

152. Twisted Sister's Dee Snider sang in a classical choir until he was 19.

153. The Oak Ridge Boys were among the first to bring long hair and beards to country music in the late '60s.

154. In 1998 Mel Tillis was a spokesman for the Stuttering Foundation of America.

155. In 1891 Columbia became the first to release a full catalogue of cylinders and phonographs.

156. Roxy Music's self-titled debut was recorded in 19 days.

157. Michael Johnson toured as a member of the Mitchell Trio, which included John Denver.

158. John Entwistle and Pete Townshend of the Who met in high school.

159. The Bellamy Brothers were originally known as Jericho.

160. Teena Marie had a small part in TV's The Beverly Hillbillies at age 8.

161. The "roots-rock" subgenre came into being the mid 80s partly as a counter movement to New Wave.

162. Chicago formed in Chicago, IL on Feb. 15, 1967.

163. Roxette's Per Gessle covered a Swedish version of Bob Dylan's Farval Angelina.

164. Wham! disbanded in 1985.

165. Lightnin' Hopkins' first instrument was a cigar-box guitar with chicken-wire guitar strings.

166. Ratt's Warren Demartini played with Whitesnake on their 1994 tour.

167. In 1976, Ibanez was forced to stop producing guitar copies due to a lawsuit.

168. A child prodigy, Ronnie Milsap was proficient at both violin and piano.

169. Yes' first major performance was at London's Speakeasy Club in 1968.

170. The first Gold record was awarded to Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" in 1941.

171. Carrie Underwood majored in Mass Communications at Northeastern State University.

172. Fergie had a role in the 2006 film Poseidon.

173. Hank Snow discovered Elvis Presley and took him on tour as his opening act.

174. Corey Hart is best known for the 1984 smash hit "Sunglasses at Night."

175. Mariah Carey released her self-titled debut in 1990.

176. Bobby Brown married pop star Whitney Houston in 1992.

177. The BBC Big Band won the British Jazz Award for Best Big Band in 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999, and 2001.

178. Pearl Jam released their debut Ten in 1991.

179. Styx's Ricky Phillips also played bass for Bad English and the Babys.

180. Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, NY is one of the last remaining analog-only facilities.

181. Emmylou Harris' third marriage was to singer-songwriter Paul Kennerley.

182. LaBelle formed in 1961 as Patti Labelle and the Blue Belles.

183. Isaac Hayes has said that he was never completely comfortable with his biblical nickname, "Black Moses."

184. In 2003, the list price of a Fender American Stratocaster was $1,177.99.

185. Nirvana formed in Aberdeen, WA in 1987.

186. In 1989 Richard Marx toured with Tina Turner in Germany.

187. Michael Sembello's wife accidentally sent "Maniac" to the producers of Flashdance and they loved it.

189. Otis Redding was the father of four children.

190. LeAnn Rimes made her stage debut as Tiny Time in A Christmas Carol at age 7.

191. Bluegrass has always been ensemble music.

192. Kenny Rogers was named the "Favorite Singer of All Time" in a 1986 national poll.

193. Phillips introduced the first compact audio cassette in 1963.

194. Whitney Houston is Dionne Warwick's cousin.

195. As producer, David Bowie was responsible for the often debated "thin" sound of the Stooges' Raw Power

196. After graduating college Sheryl Crow became a music teacher for children with special needs in St. Louis.

197. In 2002 Virgin Record paid Mariah Carey $28 million to split with the label.

198. Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley used to make his own records under the name Pelican City.

199. The Andy Williams Christmas Album hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop albums chart in 1963.

200. Bruce Springsteen's first band was the Castiles.

201. Da Brat's government name is Shawntae Harris.

202. Barbara Mandrell has hosted The Tonight Show and The People's Choice Awards.

203. After the Cadillacs joined with the Blue Notes, drummer Teddy Pendergrass became their lead singer.

204. The Stylistics maintained a strong following in Britain after their American popularity had faded.

205. White Lion's Mike Tramp cites The Sopranos and Seinfeld as his favorite television shows.

206. Billy Idol lived in Long Island, NY from age 3 to age 7.

207. Patti Smith dropped out of Glassboro State Teacher's College.

208. Matt Sharp and Patrick Wilson formed the Rentals during Weezer's 1995 hiatus.

209. Dolly Parton recorded for Fred Foster's Monument Records from 1965-67.

210. According to Billboard magazine, Boys II Men was the best selling R&B group of the 20th century.

211. Music copyrights end 70 years after the original artist's death.

212. The first Walkman went on sale in July 1979.

213. Ronnie James Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the singer for Black Sabbath in 1979.

214. Edgar Winter invented the keyboard body strap, a harness that allowed him to wear his instrument like a guitar.

215. Daft Punk got their name when a music critic dismissed their first single as "daft punk".

216. Moby was a producer on Brintey Spears' In The Zone (2003).

217. Jim Reeves studied speech and drama at the University of Texas for six weeks and dropped out.

218. Gold status indicates that the artist has arrived at 500,000 in sales.

219. Sabian cymbals are available in approximately 120 countries.

220. Halloween was formed in Hamburg, Germany by members of the bands Ironfist and Powerfool.

221. Bob Dylan, Jewel, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, and Paula Abdul have all covered songs by John Hiatt.

222. Linkin Park's original name was Hybrid Theory.

223. Michael Bolton collaborated with Bob Dylan on the song "Steel Bars."

224. Over 40 channels to choose from.

225. Puddle of Mudd won four Billboard Music Awards in Dec. 2002.

226. Rush formed in the summer of 1968.

227. Jeff Beck replaced Eric Clapton as lead guitarist for the Yardbirds in 1965.

228. Kelly Clarkson has two tattoos, a Japanese symbol on her neck and a cross.

229. You are listening to Music Choice.

230. Modern pop music can be traced back to the 1950s when some early rockers began to change their sound.

231. Howard Jones learned to play piano at age 7.

232. Dawn reunited with Tony Orlando in 1988.

233. Hot Butter's "Popcorn" was written by Gershon Kingsley.

234. Hot Butter is best known for the hit "Popcorn."

235. Sly Stone was born Sylvester Stewart.

236. Eddy Grant had a heart attack in his 20s, causing him to retire to his home studio.

237. EMI records began as a merger of Columbia and Gramophone Company in 1931.

238. Marvin Gaye was honorably discharged from the US Air Force in 1957.

239. Jon Secada has sold over 20 million albums.

240. Bryan Adams appeared as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live in 1985 with Harry Anderson hosting.

241. Louisiana blues music was influenced by French, Spanish, African American, Creole and Cajun inhabitants.

242. The Contours were brought to Motown by member Hubert Johnson's cousin, Jackie WIlson.

243. Tony Bennett got his first break opening for singer Pearl Bailey.

244. Philadelphia's Thomas M. Pierce Elementary School named their computer library after Jill Scott.

245. C-Murder's government name is Corey Miller.

246. Donna Fargo was born Yvonne Vaughn.

247. Justin Timberlake's favorite singer is Donnie Hathaway.

248. Egypt Central bassist Joey Chicago is from Wheaton, IL.

249. Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard's pop singles chart in 1979.

250. Duran Duran opened for Blondie on their 1982 tour.

251. Pleasure (Pretty Ricky) told Music Choice he is unique and no adjectives can describe him.

252. George Clinton attributes his ideas for extraordinary costumes and wild concerts to his LSD experimentation.

253. During the 1940s and '50s many jazz artists toured Europe, where racial tensions were far less pronounced.

254. After winning her first competition at age 5, LeAnn Rimes told her parents she wanted to be a star.

255. Lil Mama attended Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn.

256. The Kooks have toured with the Thrills.

257. The Smiths' Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke sued Steven Morrissey and Johnny Marr for unfair earnings distributions.

258. David Bowie formed a mime troupe called the Feathers in 1969.

259. Thelonious Monk was born Oct 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, NC.

260. Roger Greenway of Brotherhood of Man was also lead singer of the Fortunes.

261. Nas attended Russell Simmons' first Hip Hop Youth Summit, which introduced an anti-drug campaign.

262. Cal Smith worked as a truck driver and horse breaker.

263. Sour Records was one of the first jungle labels to attract a mainstream following.

264. Pop started as a mostly singles medium that was influenced by the beat and style of rock and roll.

265. Chicago's Savoy Ballroom opend its doors on Nov. 23, 1927.

266. The Bellamy Brothers started their annual Snake, Rattle and Roll benefit concerts in 1989.

267. Morris Day's debut solo album was Color of Success.

268. Fear Factory's cover of Gary Numan's "Cars" gave them their first Top Ten song.

269. As a jingle singer, Janie Fricke's voice was on commercials of Coca-Cola, 7-Up and Red Lobster.

270. The Scorpions toured the US with Iron Maiden in 1982.

271. Macy Gray has a degree in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California.

272. Did you know that Parker Brothers marketed the first Nerf foam ball?

273. KISS' "Detroit Rock City" peaked at No. 7 on Billboard's Pop Singles chart in 1976.

274. Snow's biggest hit was 1993's "The Informer."

275. In 1961, Jimmie Rodgers became the first person inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

276. Chamillionaire calls himself "The Truth From Texas" and "Houston's Hardest Artist."

277. Earth, Wind and Fire covered the Beatles' "Got To Get You Into My Life" in 1978.

278. Lionel Richie won a Grammy in 1985 for his part in "We Are The World."

279. The name Guns 'N Roses came from two members' former band names: L.A. Guns and Hollywood Roses.

280. The Cure contributed a version of "Purple Haze" to the Hendrix tribute album Stone Free.

281. Seals & Crofts released five Gold albums for Warner Bros. between '72 and '76.

282. In 1958, Muddy Waters shocked Europe with his electric guitar blues.

283. "Moon River" by Henry Mancini was one of the best-sellers of the '60s.

284. Luther Vandross served as president of the Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles fan club in the mid 60s.

285. Moonspell formed in 1989.

286. ELP's Carl Palmer went on to join the pop group Asia.

287. The fiddle evolved in Italy during the 16th century.

288. The Chemical Brothers' "Setting Sun" was a tribute to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."

289. Compost Records is based in Munich and encompasses jazz, bossa nova, Detroit techno, and deep house.

290. Afrika Bambaataa's name means "affectionate leader" in the Zulu language.

291. Irene Cara is the only artist to perform at the Oscars twice in one night.

292. During the '30s country music moved from the traditional sounds of the Carter Family to "western swing."

293. Garth Brooks made his first trip to Nashville, which lasted only four days, in 1985.

294. Loverboy's Mike Reno first met guitarist Paul Dean at the Refinery Night Club in Calgary.

295. Dean Martin quit high school after the tenth grade.

296. After the Golden State Boys, Del McCoury worked at a nuclear power plant in York, PA.

297. Alejandro Escovedo is related to two former percussionists for Santana.

298. Love Unlimited Orchestra disbanded in 1983.

299. NYC's Central Park Summerstage typically puts on 30-40 free concerts every summer.

300. Neil Young contracted polio as a child.

301. Poison formed in Harrisburg, PA in 1982.

302. Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music White Boy" peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's pop singles chart in 1976.

303. Nat King Cole died of lung cancer Feb 15, 1965 in Santa Monica, CA.

304. Johnny Lee served in the Navy aboard the USS Chicago, a guided missile cruiser.

305. Alicia Keys was born Alicia Aguello Cook.

306. Tommy Dorsey's preference for a fast beat caused many arguments with his brother.

307. Diamond status indicates that the artist has arrived at 10,000,000 or more in album sales.

308. Universal Music Group owns and maintains over 1 million copyrights.

309. Members of System of a Down are of Armenian descent.

310. Dusty Springfield knew at age 10 that she wanted to be a blues singer.

311. Benny Goodman recorded the soundtrack to his own 1955 biopic, in which he was portrayed by Steve Allen.

312. In 2000 Sheena Easton created an Angel of Autumn doll that was available on the Internet.

313. John Denver served as a member of the Presidential Commission on World and Domestic Hunger.

314. Paula Abdul established her own company, Go Dance, in 1995.

315. Styx's "Lady" peaked at No. 6 on Billboard's Pop Singles chart in 1975.

316. The 78 rpm disc was no longer produced on a large scale after 1955.

317. Kenny Loggins has received 12 Platinum and 14 Gold albums.

318. Richie Valens tossed a coin with Tommy Allsup for a seat on the plane that killed him.

319. Jethro Tull's managers, Chris Wright and Terry Ellis, created the widely successful Chrysalis Records.

320. Run-DMC were the first rap artists to have a video air on MTV.

321. In 1974, guitarist Mike Fisher moved from guitarist to full-time soundman for Heart.

322. Bing Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby.

323. The Jacksons had to change their name from the Jackson 5 after losing a legal battle to Motown Records.

324. The first album Disturbed's David Draiman bought was Kiss' Destroyer.

325. Koss introduced the first stereo headphones in 1958.

326. Helen Reddy had 14 Top 40 songs between 1971 and 1978.

327. Neil Young inducted the Pretenders into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

328. The Melodians are considered to be one of rocksteady music's greatest acts.

329. Donna Summer sang with a rock group called The Crow when she was a teenager.

330. Fergie is a former Bongo and Guess model.

331. Slick Rick was Doug E. Fresh's partner in the Get Fresh Crew.

332. The Sandpipers were known as the Four Seasons but changed when they heard about the other Four Seasons.

333. Taylor Hawkins toured with Alanis Morrissette's band before becoming the
drummer for Foo Fighters.

334. Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have three children and many dogs.

335. Stevie Wonder played the harmonica for Dionne Warwick and Friends' "That's What Friends Are For."

336. Duran Duran had the only James Bond theme to hit No. 1 with 1985's "A View to a Kill."

337. A panel voted on the greatest songs of country music and Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" ranked No. 1.

338. Sheila E. once performed "Mary Had a Little Lamb" for the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

339. Trina was dubbed "the queen of randy hip-hop" by Entertainment Weekly.

340. Soulfly's Mikey was formerly in the band Snot.

341. Toni Basil choreographed David Bowie's 1974 tour.

342. T-Pain created a variation of R&B that he calls Hard&B.

343. Puddle of Mudd got their name after the Missouri River flooded their studios, leaving a "puddle of mudd."

344. In 1991, KISS drummer Eric Carr died of cancer.

345. The Heartbreakers formed in 1975.

346. Wham!'s final performance was at London's Wembley Stadium.

347. Polygram bought Motown Records in '93.

348. Corey Hart's "Never Surrender" peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1985.

349. In the early '40s, the Glenn Miller Orchestra was considered the most popular dance band in the world.

350. Bloodbath formed in Sweden in 1999.

351. Aerosmith's first public performance took place at Nipmuc Regional High School in Mendon, MA in 1970.

352. Matthew Sweet was once a guest contestant on Win Ben Stein's Money.

353. Sean Paul developed his reggae skills by making dubs and performing at barbeques.

354. Tanya Tucker sang the theme song for CBS' NASCAR racing broadcasts in 1996.

355. A Taste of Honey's Percy Kibble died in 1999.

356. Montell Jordan, Def Jam's first R&B artist, was dropped from the label in 2002.

357. Ice Cube played in the 2005 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

358. Motley Crue's Vince Neil lost his daughter, Skylar, to stomach cancer in 1995.

359. Before the success of Primitive Radio Gods, Chris O'Connor worked as an air traffic controller.

360. Barry White married Love Unlimited's Glodean James in 1975.

361. Toby Keith joined Chris LeDoux on "Copenhagen," his ode to chewing tobacco.

362. Del Amitri emerged from the Scottish music scene.

363. In 1980, Dave Loggins recorded the theme to the Master's Golf Tournament.

364. Rita Coolidge went on hiatus from 1984-92.

365. In 2006 Rick Ross told Music Choice the most important thing he learned from his mother was loyalty.

366. In 2006 Rick Ross told Music Choice his favorite holidays are actually his son's and daughter's birthdays.

367. Larry Elgart's "Bandstand Boogie" was adopted by Dick Clark as the theme to American Bandstand.

368. The Statler Brothers named themselves after a brand of tissues.

369. Tim McGraw's first public performance was in elementary school in The Music Man.

370. Nelly launched a clothing line, Apple Bottoms, in 2003.

371. Al B. Sure's real name is Al Brown.

371. Bullet For My Valentine contributed "4 Words (to Choke Upon) to the Madden 2006 soundtrack (2005).

372. Great White's Mark Kendall cites the Los Angeles Dodgers as his favorite baseball team.

373. Duran Duran was one of the first bands to play South Africa after the end of Apartheid.

374. The International Federation of Phonographic Industry reported that 1.1 billion pirated CDs were sold in 2002.

375. David Essex's "Rock On" was certified Gold by the RIAA March 26, 1974.

376. Seymour Duncan Pickups is located in Santa Barbara, CA.

377. The Fender Museum of Music and the Arts is located on North Main Street in Corona, CA.

378. Columbia Records was the first to develop the double-sided record.

379. There were at least 390,000 different physical albums that sold at least one copy over the Internet during 2007.

380. Stereo records began production in the UK and US in Nov 1958.

381. T-Pain was born Faheem Najm in Tallahassee, FL.

382. Drummer Mike Terrana left Rage in 2006.

383. Boston's ex-guitarist Barry Goudreau formed Orion the Hunter.

384. Boston's Brad Delp sang back-up on Orion the Hunter's self-titled debut and co-wrote half the songs.

385. September loves to paint and draw.

386. Justin Timberlake wrote and recorded Justified in just six weeks.

387. Lipps, Inc. is meant to be pronounced as a pun on "lip sync."

388. D.C. Bellamy is the half-brother of Curtis Mayfield.

389. In 1934 before the medium caught on, BASF manufactured 50,000 meters of magnetic recording tape.

390. The highly influential Paradise Garage club in NYC closed in Sept. 1987, ten years after opening.

391. Dolly Parton is one of 12 children.

392. Patsy Cline gave birth to her daughter, Julie Fudge, in 1958.

393. Rush was awarded the 2004 Music DVD of the Year Juno Award.

394. Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston and wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston. It's true!

395. Spyro Gyra appeared at major international jazz festivals in the 80s.

396. Muddy Waters initially took up guitar at 17.

397. Living Strings was a commercial creation of RCA Records other than a true musical entity.

398. Grammy Winner: Best New Artist of 1959: Bobby Darin.

399. Lee Ann Womack hosted Broadway Meets Country in Nov 2005.

400. Cymande's music combined calypso rhythms with jazz overtones.

401. Too Short and his high school friend Freddy B. started the Dangerous Music Label.

402. The Rolling Stones signed to Decca Records in 1963.

403. Bet you didn't know the first roller coaster dates back to Russian ice slides built in the mid-1600s.

404. As a bandleader, Jimmy Dorsey was generally considered more easygoing than his brother Tommy.

405. Frank Sinatra signed with Capitol Records in 1954.

406. After developing a local following, the Grateful Dead signed to MGM Records in 1966.

407. Don Williams was the first country artist to make a video, in support of his 1973 release Come Early Morning.

408. In April 2004 PETA asked Beyonce to stop wearing fur.

409. Before forming the Eurythmics Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were in the band Catch.

410. Randy Travis married his manager, Lib Hatcher, in 1991.

411. Warrant's James St. James a member of the Kiss tribute band Cold Gin for nearly two years.

412. The Smashing Pumpkins released their first single, "I Am One," in 1990.

413. Akon has admired the career of P. Diddy.

414. Crayola crayons were invented by cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith.

415. The Cutting Crew disbanded in 1993.

416. Sarah Vaughan's nicknames include "Sassy" and "The Divine One."

417. In 1887, German inventor Emile Berliner became the first to invent a method of mass-producing records.

418. Blake Shelton has a pet turkey and has fed him turkey.

419. Merle Haggard opened for the Rolling Stones on select dates during their 2005 tour.

420. In April '06, Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" became the first single to hit No. 1 on the UK charts based on download sales alone.

421. 2001 Pepsi Award for People's Choice Best Female: Britney Spears.

422. Tone-Loc's "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina" were co-written by Young MC.

423. Merrilee Rush's "Angel Of The Morning" is widely considereda timeless classic.

Posted by Lou at 12:00 AM | Permalink

March 21, 2009

The Weekend Desk Report

We're in the throes of full-tilt March Madness this weekend, but we'll still try to watch some of the other top stories.

Change Watch
Analysts estimate some $12 billion will be wagered on this year's NCAA tournament, which means we should all root like fuck for UNC. Just think how many bonuses could be repaid if President Obama pulls this one out.

Tar Heel Business
In related news, sources close to the administration say the uber-productive Tyler Hansbrough will be Obama's next pick for Commerce Secretary when Gary Locke inevitably withdraws his name.

Fudging Illini
In related news, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn this week defended his fuzzy math concerning a proposed massive tax hike, putting the discrepancy down to Bracketology. "I had the Illini in the Sweet 16," the governor remarked, "so my whole South regional is historically screwed."

Elite Ate
In related news, researchers this week signaled an official end to the Bush-era Assault on Science by picking Hydrogel over Maggots.

Bracket Update
In related news, the International regional is shaping up to reward the chalk with vulnerable five seed America turning in an indifferent effort against the twelfth seed Iran. Meanwhile, top seed Holland progressed in an absolute no-brainer pick.

In Related News . . .
Duh.

Posted by Natasha at 7:14 AM | Permalink

March 20, 2009

The [Friday] Papers

I'll be on a panel about corruption in Illinois politics on Saturday in Bensenville - you know, if you happen to be in the area. Details here.

Pot Shot
I wracked my brain trying to find the punch line to "Legal Pot Debuts In Midwest" and came up empty, but I think it has something to do with "McDonald's Crosses Big Mac, Snack Wrap."

Meter Madness
"Chicago's abrupt transfer of parking meters to a private company has drivers and business owners angry about erroneous overcharges and confusing enforcement rules," Jon Hilkevitch reports in the Tribune.

The Trib did spot checks around the city and found, basically, a real mess.

Meanwhile, The Expired Meter captured the arrest of a man for assaulting a meter.

And finally, it's not just that the cost of existing meters is going up, it's that meters are springing up where none previously existed. From the Beachwood mailbag:

1. One thing that I have recently noticed is that there are now parking meters where there once were none.

Check out the four new parking meters on the east side of Paulina next to the Jewel as you approach Blackhawk Street.

I also saw some on Clybourn where there weren't any before.

It's pretty easy to tell the difference of the old ones from the new ones.

The old one's poles are buried in the concrete of the sidewalk.

The new ones have a base plate that is bolted onto the top of concrete. You can even see freshly poured concrete on top of the bolts.

I am very sure they have added new meters across the city. . . was that part of the lease deal?

COMMENT 2:20 P.M.: A Beachwood reader writes:

"Yes, it was. Metered parking zones a require city council authorization. The city council has passed ordinances authorizing the installation of meters in many places where, for whatever reason, the city had never installed them. Extending that authority to the contractor to fill them in was part of the appeal of the deal."

2. Thing is, around my office there were five blocks relatively close by that did not have meters. That was free parking, if you got lucky. There were more such blocks a few years ago, but gradually, the sidewalks started sprouting meter stalks, and then a day later, the full-bloom collection box would appear. Well, just this week, starting Wednesday, three of the five free blocks near my office sprouted meter stalks. Now there are only two free streets, and I'm sure those are going the same way.

Secret Agent Man
"Last month, 46 Chicago aldermen signed their names to a City Council resolution demanding that city departments, the CTA and Chicago Public Schools outline their stimulus projects, the number of jobs those projects would create and the criteria for determining which projects would be funded," Fran Spielman reports in the Sun-Times

"Daley responded by releasing the city's list - minus the selection criteria and without consulting aldermen.

"On Thursday, a joint City Council committee held a hearing on the resolution, allowing aldermen to vent their anger about being dissed and about the mayor's decision to ignore what they called higher priorities.

"'If we called 311, we might have had better input in this thing,' said Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Allen (38th). 'The pattern of secrecy is what jumps out at me . . . We've seen this pattern before."

Only for about 20 years. So what are you going to do about it, Tom?

Secret Tax Ruling
"Mayor Daley and his wife, Maggie, have secured a 'rock-solid' legal opinion that states they have no tax obligation from the trips they took aboard a $31 million jet owned by a non-profit company under investigation by the IRS and Congress, a top mayoral aide said Thursday," Spielman also reports.

"Mayoral press secretary Jacquelyn Heard refused to release the opinion, the legal rationale for it or the author. Nor would she say definitively how many trips the Daleys took courtesy of EduCap."

But she sounded "rock-solid" when she said it!

"On at least two of the mayoral flights - including a possible April, 2005 weekend trip to Cabo, Mexico to celebrate Daley's birthday -the mayor's office has no record of the travel because it it occurred over weekends and holidays that count as personal time.

"But, in order to avoid paying or owing taxes, Daley would presumably need to have worked in some official function. So he's trying to have it both ways."

It's a pattern Tom Allen has seen before.

Secret Police
"Private security guards patrolling three Far South Side commercial strips would be empowered to write tickets - for everything from parking and moving violations to loitering, littering and graffiti - under a groundbreaking plan that faces strong resistance from rank-and-file Chicago Police officers," Spielman also reports.

Here's an idea: Daley could sell off the police department just like the meters, the Skyway, and Midway Airport. In fact, seeing as how he's already privatized the mayor's office, why not just take the whole city private? Chicago LLC has a nice ring to it.

Public Pays To Play
Of course, private interests like to have the public to fall back on.

"House lawmakers approved legislation today guaranteeing the state would put up $250 million if a 2016 summer Olympics comes to Chicago and loses money," Ray Long of the Tribune reports.

"Backers of the legislation argue the state's financial risk is not very high because it would be unusual for an Olympics held in the United States to operate in the red. They say it's also been decades since any foreign-based Olympics has come up short."

Those statements must somehow distinguish between operating costs of the Games themselves over their two-week period versus the cost of putting on the whole extravaganza, as Pat Ryan has done before, or else they're just patently false. I'm wondering just what the state's guarantee, then, is restricted to. (It's also darkly amusing to hear legislators prognosticating about financial risk in times like these; are lessons ever learned? Nope.)

This also caught my eye:

"According to the legislation, should the state have to dip into the $250 million guarantee against operating losses" - yup, there it is - "an equivalent amount would be spent outside Cook County on road projects. That's a sweetener to get downstate and suburban lawmakers on board."

So, wait, does that mean if the state has to spend the whole $250 million it has to spend another $250 million on downstate and suburban roads? Doesn't that mean we're on the hook for $500 million - plus the city's $500 million, which basically equals a billion?

Price War
While the Sun-Times is raising its newsstand price from 50 cents to 75 cents, Time Out Chicago is going the other way and lowering its newsstand price from $2.99 to $1.99.

Why?

To attract more readers. Hint, hint.

Outrageous Outrage
"I didn't like the AIG bonuses," David Greising writes in the Tribune. "You didn't like the bonuses. Even AIG Chief Executive Edward Liddy didn't like the bonuses. Add up the outrage, though, and it still doesn't mean there oughta be a law."

Well, there oughta be a law insofar as these sort of guidelines should be - and should have been - written into bailout legislation. But I agree that going back and creating a special tax to recover the money sets a horrible precedent and makes even more of a mockery out of the tax code than it already is.

Plus, if the Daleys can get a "rock-solid" opinion on their tax situation . . .

Olympic Funds Fight
* USOC squabble with IOC could hurt Chicago's chances.

Airport Wars
* Three third airports and counting.

Quinn's Other Job
* He's still lieutenant governor, too. Sort of.

In Today's Beachwood
* The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week. And the people who had them.

* On The Triple Crown Trail. With our man on the rail.

* Jockeys Becomes A Joke. With our man on the rail.

* Beachwood Brackets! Updated round-by-round.

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Tiplineology.

Posted by Lou at 11:56 AM | Permalink

TrackNotes: The Triple Crown Trail

It was an exciting and interesting day of Kentucky Derby prep races, but it's difficult to say if any questions really got answered. I spent the day at beautiful Hawthorne Race Course. When you're at the track, you try to bet on the races on the premises, but there was a lot going on around the country. But I managed. Sure did.

Not a lot happening this Saturday, so let's recap last week.

Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs
Musket Man kicked it in gear to just nose out Join in the Dance with Justdontcallmejeri running a fine race all the way around. Sam Davis winner General Quarters trailed badly, was in close enough into the stretch and then flattened out. Hello Broadway and Sumo didn't look too good either. Hard to see how any of these will compete in the Kentucky Derby, but we'll see then.

Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds
Heavy rains provided a sloppy, sealed track, making it difficult to gauge these horses in this race or their next races. Papa Clem transferred to the slop from synthetic nicely, leading most of the way. But when the time came, Friesan Fire pulled away with aplomb, to quote John G. Dooley, and won convincingly under a hand ride. He'll vault to the top of most of the Derby ranking lists. Terrain hung in for third. Giant Oak trailed most of the way and might have done well to get fourth. But he'll have to show more for the Derby.

Rebel Stakes, Oaklawn Park
Ah yes, the Rebel Stakes. Old Fashioned. He's everybody's Derby favorite, right? Perhaps Silver City can turn the tables for once. Or wiseguys Hamazing Destiny or Wise Kid can jump up. No, it was the hunnerd-dollar horse, Win Willy and I had 'im. $115.60, $27.40 and $11.00. Toss out the turf attempt and note it looked like he really took to this track last time in his best race ever, and with the 50-1, why not? But what happened to Old Fashioned? Silver City, looking like a sprinter, took a very quick lead, setting quick fractions. Problem was, Old Fashioned stayed right with him and had nothing left in the tank for the last sixteenth. Old Fashioned is going to have to learn to conserve energy for a distance and he and Ramon Dominguez haven't shown it. But that's OK. I had a hunnerd dollar horse.

San Felipe, Santa Anita
Pioneerof the Nile sure looked like he had to work hard to win this one. Either he's not that good or he needed a hard race for conditioning. We'll see. But he did win. Santa Anita Derby is next, maybe. Don't be surprised to see him train right up to the Derby.

*

On the female side, Don't Forget Gil looked good in the Florida Oaks at Tampa, but Rachel Alexandra controlled and won the Fair Grounds Oaks very impressively, Calvin Borel gearing her down at the sixteenth pole. I think she has reached the upper echelon on the fillies side and looks quite promising for the Kentucky Oaks. Life is Sweet ran down Santa Teresita and Joe Talamo in the Santa Margarita.

*

Looking Good
- Musket Man
- Friesan Fire
- Papa Clem
- Win Willy
- Pioneerof the Nile

Looking Not So Good
- General Quarters
- Hello Broadway
- Sumo
- Patena
- Old Fashioned
- Silver City
- Poltergeist

Races This Week
The only Derby prep of note, the Lane's End from Turfway (ESPN, 4 p.m.) is the kind of race I don't like. You've got mostly tier 1.5 horses running on the fake stuff - horses that once were mentioned in the same breath as Derby, but now seem questionable. But this is a $500,000 race, so do well here . . . West Side Bernie and Bittel Road already have enough earnings to get into the Derby, but neither one impresses me. And do they even care to win this race? There are a million mutations of horses going to or coming from turf or synthetic or dirt in their careers. Throw in the worst race caller in the world, and it's not a pleasant experience. I'll try to find a price horse.

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Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes every Friday. You can reach him here.

Posted by Lou at 9:35 AM | Permalink

What I Watched Last Night: Jockeys Joke

Years ago, perhaps before reality shows even existed, Homer Simpson was accused of sexually harassing the babysitter after he couldn't resist peeling the gummi Venus de Milo off her rear end. He went on the Rock Bottom show to explain, apologize and defend himself, doing a rather good job. But when the show aired, it was so heavily edited and cut, Homer looked like a guilty personification of evil. The clock on the wall in the background jumps to all different times to show how hacked the editing was. Funny. Or was it?

And so it is with Jockeys, the "reality" show that mercifully came to its season end last week. The show has jumped the shark like Willy the Whale over Navy Pier.

I don't know if I should be upset, because this is reality TV territory, right? We shouldn't expect accuracy or chronology, right?

It's the culmination of the Oak Tree Meet, Santa Anita's hosting of the Breeders Cup Championships. "Blood's been spilled, bones broken to get here." Sheesh! The producers, directors and writers - I have it from a good source that most of the scenes are staged - must have gotten tired of doing the show, because they sure got lazy. Every single fact and aspect of the Breeders Cup is presented incorrectly and out of chronological order. Of the 12 or 14 times they bellow "this is the second day of the world's richest racing" or the "Chantal's big day is tomorrow," 13 times they get it wrong. Our Chantal was done before happy hour the first day.

The Breeders Cup marketing people (I believe they are made up of Albert Brooks' bald men from New York from Lost in America) have made some real knuckleheaded decisions the past two years. They added races and split the card into two days, preventing working people like me from enjoying the Friday races. This year, they added a couple more races, and ran all the female races on Friday, depriving many of seeing Stardom Bound and Zenyatta in all their glory. They changed it from the Breeders Cup Distaff to the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic. Cute. Smacks of Bobby Riggs, but he's dead, isn't he? And what about the foreign riders who came in and kicked some serious ass? The Jockeys crew just mangles the event.

It's not 14 straight races, its five at the end of the card Friday and nine at the end of the card Saturday. The winner of the Classic does not get the whole $5 million purse - this year all the connections of Ravens Pass received a total of $2,970,000. I'd be willing to bet Trevor Denman never called the Breeders Cup "the Super Bowl of racing." The NFL wouldn't allow the trademark infringement, and not even the BC marketing committee is that stupid. And Denman knows better. The BC is Thoroughbred horse racing at its top and most exciting level. The Super Bowl is the supreme example of a spectacle distilled to its most ridiculous in a league that does not even play its own game very well. Although everybody pronounces it "sheriffs" as in Cleavon Little of Rock Ridge, trainer John spells his name S-h-i-r-r-e-f-f-s (I believe everyone on TV mispronounces his name, but I've never had the chance to ask him). Jockeys has a huge graphic with "John Sherriffs" emblazoned. Nice try, but do you know how much race information is available in this world?

Mike Smith's mom comes out west and brings all his trophies with her. Who cares? Especially when they don't show the trophies! Mike and Chantal will be riding against each other in one of the BC races. Who cares? They don't.

We heard at least three times that Curlin is the modern Seabiscuit. Oh brother, give me a break with that gratuitous reference. "Curlin is invincible and will be nearly impossible to beat in the Classic." Well, Curlin came into that race under a huge question mark of whether he would be able to run well on the synthetic surface. He had already shown that while very good, he wasn't great on turf. He wasn't able to get hold of the Santa Anita plastic either. He finished fourth.

Dinner with Mike and Chantal and Chantal's folks left us wondering if any of the reaction shots we saw during the deadly dull small talk even took place that night. Chantal reaction shot, Mr. Sutherland reaction shot, Mike Smith reaction shot - I think they might have just been belching in anticipation of the next course. Back at the track, cut in a reaction shot of Mike Smith's mother looking like "what the hell is that idiot son of mine doing with this horse?" I think it was more like "I didn't sign up for this, so get the damn cameras the hell out of my face."

Jon Court gets beaten bad on Orthodox, but no surprise there. By the way, Orthodox runs this weekend in the Lane's End with Jesus Castanon aboard. Court didn't make the trip to ride him and that speaks volumes.

What Bob Baffert said: "Aaron Gryder's been around . . . a smart rider. Just hasn't had the opportunity of some of these other guys."

What Bob Baffert meant: "He's more of a Grade 3 or lesser stakes, maybe Grade 2, rider. No better."

This is the ride of Chantal's life. Yeah, I know, for the twentieth time. But she ain't gonna beat Mikey on Stardom Bound and everybody knows it.

One funny moment was Jimmy the Hat drinking the Kool-Aid, or so it seems in Realityville, and putting down abut $700 on Curlin. That's nothing to him, but they make it look like he's all in on just Curlin. Man, I hope not. I could see he wasn't going to win the race with the way the track was playing that day. My win in the Classic made my day.

So in the next year, I need two things to happen. Chicago 2016 gets ashcanned and the chief forgets to ask me to review the second season of Jockeys. Any order will do.

Editor's Note: Wish granted! Now let's go do something about those Olympics . . .

-

Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He's been following Jockeys this season both in this space and in his TrackNotes column. Previously:

* Sex, death threats and Jimmy the Hat.

* The bywords are dejection and overdubbing.

* The brat of the pack.

* The Kid at Harlem Ave.

* Getting sudsy.

-

See what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.

Posted by Lou at 9:26 AM | Permalink

The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week

1. When incompetents get millions for contributing nothing of value to the economy, I really get steamed. Of course, I'm referring to this.

2. No, Rihanna is not in talks to star in The Bodyguard. She could sure use one, though.

3. Remember, back in the day, when the whole family would gather round the piano and sing. Actually, I don't either but that's beside the point. These days, no family event is complete without a rousing, multi-generational YouTube session, preferably one featuring Granny busting a few Soulja Boy moves.

And if you don't have a Granny, you can always rent one for the occasion.

4. Because you can never see too many pictures of people with congenital deformities,
kudos to ABC's "Medical Marvel" site.

5. Q. What do you get when you deduct 24 genuine terrorists from 800 detainees held at Guantanamo?

A. If we're lucky, a war crimes tribunal.

-

Look for Stephanie Goldberg's Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week in this space on Fridays.


Posted by Lou at 6:43 AM | Permalink

March 19, 2009

The [Thursday] Papers

Is it just me, or is it odd that the federal corruption trial of the former Streets and San Commissioner, particularly placed within the context of the conviction of Robert Sorich, the mayor's former patronage chief, has bascially been buried by not only the newspapers but local TV news?

Seems to me that this is sort of a big deal - some might even say "front-page news."

After all, the crimes that Sorich was convicted of, like those alleged against Al Sanchez, were for the benefit of one man: Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In fact, the defense in each case has as much as said so.

On Wednesday, Sanchez's lawyer, Thomas Breen, said his client was merely a dupe used by political powers greater than he. What powers might he be speaking of?

* Trash Man Trial Goes To Jury. My summary of closing arguments.

Bye Bye, Illini!
The Beachwood Brackets are in.

Olympalooza
"An International Olympic Committee team arrives the beginning of next month to scrutinize Chicago's suitability to host the 2016 Games," the Tribune reports. "When they arrive, the international officials will see smooth, pitch-black pavement ringing the Washington Park ball fields where Mayor Richard Daley wants to build an Olympic stadium.

"The work raised questions for some who that fear taxpayers will suffer as the city directs scarce resources toward impressing Olympic officials."

1. Is anyone really surprised?
2. The work raised questions for some? Why not just say it? The reporting in the story shows conclusively that the city placed pleasing the IOC in its effort to land the Olympics over the more immediate needs of residents. Now, is that wrong? If getting the Olympics is Daley's top priority - and it is - then it makes perfect sense. The Trib may have more directly said what's on its mind, though: The paving is an example of how city services will be prioritized should the city get the Games. In fact, it's an example of how city services are already being prioritized. Now go find other examples - they abound. That's really the story.

The Daley-Weis Show
I think it was Ben Bradlee who once said "We don't print the truth, we print what people tell us."

Yes, but as a Far Side cartoon once said, "We don't have to be just sheep!"

So this sort of story really bugs me:

"Mayor Richard Daley on Wednesday shrugged off a union 'no-confidence' vote against Police Supt. Jody Weis, saying he still had confidence in him.

"'He's done a tremendous job. He's a very good, honest superintendent,' Daley said. 'He has a difficult job'."

Now, I saw the videotape of that press conference and it was clear that Daley wasn't sincerely shrugging off the no-confidence vote or sincerely - and certainly not enthusiastically - backing his police chief.

If you watch the tape, Daley is doing what he does so often: he's evading questions, filibustering by making grade-school statements ("He's a very good, honest superintendent"), and searching with darting eyes for a way out.

Now, is that "subjective?" No!

You can report what you see . . .

"Mayor Daley on Wednesday refused to answer questions about embattled police chief Jody Weis, whose management stumbles and lack of acceptance by the rank-and-file have not only led to complaints that officers have reined in their policing, but saw Daley strip Weis of emergency management authority the mayor once used to justify the chief's $300,000 salary.

"Weis's problems led to a rare vote of no-confidence by the Fraternal Order of Police this week, just the latest in a string of challenges to Weis's competence.

"He's done a tremendous job," Daley said, an assessment that even Weis's biggest supporters would likely be too embarrassed to make.

"As the mayor often does when confronted with questions he'd rather not answer, Daley tried to play off the continuing drama surrounding his hand-picked police chief by issuing odd and non-responsive statements such as 'He's a very good, honest superintendent'."

Is there anything in there that isn't objectively true?

One might add: "Even disobeying a federal judge's order to turn over a list of cops with repeated citizen complaints filed against them did nothing to improve Weis's standing with officers; in the end Weis gave in and the episode was largely seen as a stunt to win over officers on the street."

The Trib story ends like this:

"Weis, in a statement, said the department always evaluates its resources and has been deploying officers to specialized units to target high-crime areas."

In the print version, we get this tacked on:

"He said he welcomes the chance to explain the efforts."

Why not just publish "In a statement, Weis said the department is doing an excellent job and welcomes the chance to tell everyone just how excellent a job it is doing. God bless America!"?

I mean, really. Write with some knowingness; readers want savvy, not bullshit.

Wrong Turn
Single-copy sales of the Sun-Times will go up on March 30 from 50 cents to 75 cents.

I'm kind of thinking they should have gone the other way and made the street version of the paper free. Go after RedEye and the Trib tab. On the other hand, increase the price for home subscriptions because delivering them is, you know, expensive. The bet that revenue will increase despite what will surely be a drop in sales is not only risky, but not a great strategy going forward, unless the idea is to save money by printing fewer papers to begin with.

Transition Phase
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is losing a lot of manpower in its shift to becoming online-only, but let's see how it rebuilds its business. Meanwhile, Puget Sound Public Radio has just hired a full-time investigative reporter for the first time.

Also, AOL is not just hiring sports columnists like Jay Mariotti (and they're rumored to be hiring beat reporters as well) but political reporters.

"AOL is investing in a big way in news and in old school journalism," veteran journalist Melinda Henneberger says. "AOL is setting out to create 'quality news sites that have zero aggregation, original content, that pay writers a living wage'."

This is a good thing, people. Embrace it . . . and help shape it so others don't instead.

Peotone Poop
"We will build a third airport in the south suburbs of Chicago, and we will build it as fast as humanly possible," Gov. Pat Quinn said during his budget address on Wednesday. So noted.

Chicago's New Beer Barons?
Meet the couple behind Ravenswood's Metropolitan Brewing.

TARP Talk
The courts will have to decide if TARP passes the constitutional laugh test, our very own Sam Singer writes in "Is TARP Legal?"

Black Spring
There was a star above your manger, and I followed it to the Empty Bottle. In Chicagoetry.

Trekkie Barcalounger
We had it first at Reading With Scissors. Guess who's got it now?

The Beachwood Tip Line: Scanned and ready.

Posted by Lou at 11:29 AM | Permalink

Is TARP Legal?

For all the back and forth over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) - its price tag, its sloppy administration, and its seemingly endless list of beneficiaries - few have earnestly questioned Congress's authority to create the program in the first place. Legal scholars who did so in the beginning were often crowded out of the popular press by louder, more colorful dissenters in the business community. Now, months since the Treasury Department unloaded its final $350 billion, a prominent libertarian think tank is preparing to challenge TARP and its governing legislation, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, in federal court.

The organization, FreedomWorks, will allege that Congress created TARP in violation of the "non-delegation principle," a doctrine limiting the lawmaking authority Congress can properly hand over to executive agencies, in this case the Treasury Department. Instead of confronting difficult policy questions relating to the distribution of bailout money - how much, to whom, and under what circumstances - the lawsuit will allege that Congress offered a list of open-ended pronouncements and invited Treasury to dispense the money in accordance with its own guidelines. In short, Congress turned Treasury into a mini-legislature and furnished it with a quarter of the annual budget with advice against spending it all in one place.

Libertarian academics are as familiar with this line of reasoning as they are frustrated by the cold reception it traditionally receives in court. Suffice it to say that FDR was in his first term the last time the Supreme Court invalidated a regulatory program on the basis of improper delegation. That's not to say the doctrine is a dead letter. As FreedomWorks observes in its legal analysis, the Court has preserved kernels of this original principle in its holdings over the years, retaining its authority to strike down sweeping statutory delegations even as it routinely upheld the same.

This all makes for a strong, if cloudy, presumption in favor of delegation. Scholars have tried to distill the presumption into a hard and fast standard, but with little success. We do know the strength of the presumption will vary inversely with the size and scope of a particular delegation. The smaller the segment of the economy a particular policy judgment affects, the easier it will be for Congress to punt it away. For larger, market-wide programs like TARP, courts will be on the lookout for an "intelligible principle" in the governing statute, which is a slippery way of saying they would prefer some basic guidelines. Lawmakers rarely think twice about this requirement. Courts, they understand, have a way of locating "intelligible principles" in the least intelligible of statutory schemes. On the rare occasion when a court takes issue with a delegation, it is far more likely to cure the infirmity than it is to strike down an entire administrative structure. What's left, then, is a laugh test of sorts, a tradition of judicial forbearance for all but the most naked abdications of legislative responsibility.

Today, with the financial sector awash in TARP runoff, news headlines are bringing some of the more glaring abdications into focus. In raising hell over the AIG bonuses, for instance, members of Congress gave the lie to the proposition that clear limits on executive compensation were in place when EESA left Capitol Hill. For financial institutions in which Treasury takes a "meaningful equity or debt position," the Secretary must require that the company comply with "appropriate standards for executive compensation and corporate governance." The law is opaque, if not willfully evasive, as to whether these "appropriate standards" cover non-fraudulent cash bonuses paid out in accordance with a financial institution's contractual obligations. That determination, with all of its political hazards, was left for the Treasury Department.

So too with the meaning of "financial institution," which Congress effectively passed off when it inserted "but not limited to" in the term's definition. Treasury, as we know, took the extra slack and ran, dipping into TARP to finance an auto company bailout. It also made the most of EESA's invitingly loose definition of "troubled assets," which became the legal foundation for a range of extra-financial programs, including an ambitious campaign to provide lending support for homeowners and credit-worthy borrowers. Whatever the merits of these programs, courts will be primarily concerned with whether congressional intent was sufficiently fleshed out to allow for accurate and honest administration. Was Treasury, in other words, implementing the law pursuant to an "intelligible principle," or was it forced to make the law itself?

Congress's approach to TARP - perhaps to this entire crisis - is encapsulated in a list of factors the Treasury Secretary must consider in exercising his discretion. The list, which resounds with the commonplaces of a political platform, includes preventing the "disruption to financial markets," "the long-term viability of the financial institution," and, a personal favorite, the "interests of taxpayers." If you have trouble reading these "guidelines" without laughing, who's to say the same won't be true of a federal judge?

-

Previously by Sam Singer:
* Taking Government Out Of The Marriage Business

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Sam Singer is a third-year law student at Emory University and a resident of Northbrook. You can reach him here.

Posted by Lou at 6:49 AM | Permalink

Chicagoetry: Black Spring

BLACK SPRING

I forgot I love you.
There was a star
Above your manger

And I followed it to the Empty Bottle.
Mammals re-emerged from the air-raid shelters
Toward the buzz drone ragas

Of Red Red Meat. Bleary-eyed,
Bewildered by loss and doom,
Re-animated by the stark miracle

Of Warmth.
Fangs stained by
Tar and rain,

Blood warmth twirling under black
Stars. It is spring but it is black.
It is black but it is spring it is spring.

Men bloated and grey-haired,
Women still beautiful beautiful.
I was doing "The Air Stream Driver"

To "Air Stream Driver!" Develop
A dance! Word leaked out
That warmth returned. Word.

Tom toms: gargantuan.
Steel strings: Olympian.
Blistering ragas bled us

Of our tension dreams and mute,
Mortal terror in the stale, stooped
Night. I forgot I love you,

Wicked winter. I forgot I love!
Leaking blue books
And wild mares in heat,

Buzz drones bleat us along
Toward our brittle manger.
Fangs and mange, swirling drones,

Mammals bearing crosses
Of shimmering stars back
To the bars.

-

J. J. Tindall is the Beachwood's poet-in-residence. He can reached at jjtindall@yahoo.com. Chicagoetry is an exclusive Beachwood collection-in-progress.


Posted by Lou at 5:01 AM | Permalink

March 18, 2009

Fantasy Fix: NBA Studs, Top Ten Outfielders

Is it possible that I am the only fantasy sports columnist still writing about fantasy basketball, the lone voice in the wilderness as the NBA season winds down? It kind of feels that way.

The NBA season is interminable, evidenced by the increasing number of players heading to the injury list. Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Marvin Williams and Andris Biedrins are three of the biggest names to take a fall in the last week. The season should really start later, end earlier or both. The NCAA tournament takes precedence in March. Also, if you're a three-sport fantasy leaguer like me, it's tough to focus on the basketball draft with football season just ending, and tougher still to care about the end of the basketball season with baseball drafts coming together.

Having lodged my complaint to whom it may concern, let me use the last week before playoffs begin in most fantasy basketball leagues to give out my fantasy stud awards for this season.

MVP: Dwayne Wade, PG/SG. We talked a bunch about him last week, but there's even more to say. He may lose the actual MVP to LeBron or Kobe, but D-Wade makes the grade in the hard-to-come-by fantasy stat categories, collecting more assists, steals and blocks than the other two. Also, thus far he has more field goals and a better FG shooting percentage than either LeBron or Kobe, a feat no play has accomplished in at least three seasons.

Sleeper of the Year: Nate Robinson, PG/SG. You could make a case for several players, but the NBA's Mighty Mite surpassed even the expectation of those who thought he would make a chic late pick or early-season pick-up: 18.2 points per game, 1.8 three-pointers and 1.8 steals on average are among his highlights, but he averaged about 24 PPG during February.

Comeback Player of the Year: Nene Hilario, PF/C. It doesn't get any better than coming back from cancer, and the big Brazilian did just that this year, with the first mostly-injury free season of his star-crossed career. After having a testicular tumor removed late last season, he's averaging 14.7 PPG, 9.7 rebounds per game, and 1.5 blocks per game. He's second only to Shaq in FG percentage at .601.

Rookie of the Year: Brook Lopez. I surprised even myself. Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, Kevin Love and others made strong cases, but Lopez is the rare big man who makes his free throws - 82.7 percent of them. He's average 12.7 PPG and 7.9 RPG, but wins the award on his blocks: 124 total, 1.9 per game, good for second in the NBA.

Next week, we'll take a first look at the first round of next year's draft - finally, something worth talking about . . .

Like I said, I feel like the lone voice in the wilderness, and going along with that, there's not much on the expert wire this week:

* Bleacher Report has some advice on late-season help at guard, fellows like Rasual Butler and Matt Barnes who are on and off the waiver wire fairly constantly. Amazingly, I'm going to recommend - keep your ears closed, Bulls fans - Thabo Sefolosha, who has averaged 11.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG the last month; nice rebounds for a shooting guard.

Fantasy Baseball
A quick stop this week to take a look at my top 10 outfielders as we round out our positional rankings:

1. Ryan Braun. He's got everything. Could lead the league in homers and steal 20 bases.

2. Grady Sizemore. Another multi-tool. Could be due for a 35 HR, 100 RBI, 45 SB year.

3. Josh Hamilton. I've been cagey about a repeat, but Rangers line-up and park should help him again pile up RBIs.

4. B.J. Upton. A little letdown last year has me thinking .300 with 60 SB potential and more power.

5. Carlos Beltran. Was strong in the stretch again last year for the fading Mets, a better team this year.

6. Carlos Lee. Quietly consistent .300-caliber power hitter, 100 RBI man, though once-promising speed is gone.

7. Matt Kemp. 18 HRs, 35 SBs last year were a glimpse of what the emerging, potential .300 hitter can do.

8. Alfonso Soriano. I'm tempted to push his stock lower, but he's promising a return to base-stealing, We'll see.

9. Nick Markakis. I kid you not. Led the majors in doubles, average has increased last three years to .306.

10. Carlos Quentin. Tough call. Concerned about his health, but he proved he can hit 36 HRs in a shortened season.

And now a stroll along the expert wire:

* Roto Arcade's Farm Aid column takes a look at Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland. Farm Aid tries to look deep at under-the-radar spring training stars, and they certainly found one I hadn't heard of. But, can any Rangers pitcher be that good once he gets to The Ballpark?

* SI.com has a column by one of the writers from The Hardball Times suggesting that SS Hanley Ramirez is not the sure-fire No. 1 pick with Alex Rodriguez out of the running. With his 30+ HRs, 30+ SBs, and .300+ average at a thin position, a lot of us think it's no-brainer, but the THT writer makes a very good case for fellow SS Jose Reyes.

* Finally, just when you thought the World Baseball Classic could only hurt a MLB player's prospects for a strong season, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez turns it into his own personal showcase. FanHouse reports on I-Rod's signing with Houston, which should be a boon to his fantasy stats, in addition to giving him a job, which he didn't have before he played well for Puerto Rico in the WBC. He goes from unwanted to a starting catcher in a park that is fairly kind to right-handed HR hitters. Pick him up while you can.

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Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears in this space every Wednesday. Tips, comments, and suggestions are welcome.


Posted by Lou at 2:30 PM | Permalink

The [Wednesday] Papers

A Beachwood reader writes:

"There was a book I read in the 80s, pretty good police novel, can't recall the name. In it, the detectives are staking out a suspects home in Spanish Harlem. One policeman looks at his watch and says, 'It's 3 o'clock, whatever the Board of Education is doing to hold down the New York City crime rate is about to end'."

And still, today the Sun-Times reports "Teen Is 29th CPS Student Killed This School Year."

The lead?

"A 15-year-old boy was shot to death near his South Side home this week, Chicago Police said."

Near his South Side home.

As I wrote on Monday, a Sun-Times editorial last week said noted that "Bryan Samuels, the top CPS official who oversaw [a] data analysis, found the shootings were typically much closer to the victim's home than to his or her school. The median distance from the shooting to the victim's home was 0.4 miles, while the median distance to the victim's school was 1.2 miles.

"CPS also found that 70 percent of the shootings took place between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. - outside the hours of the school day and after-school programs."

The Sun-Times story goes on to say:

"Now police are investigating the death of another Chicago teen. Jonathan Wilson, 17, was shot Sunday night in the 5000 block of West LeMoyne and died Tuesday. It was unclear whether he was a CPS student."

Apparently he won't be added to the count if he isn't.

*

"The drug gangs are involved in most of the dead kids in Chicago every year - not the city's public schools," George Schmidt writes at Substance News.

"If anything, the public schools are one of the last safe havens in many communities."

But the impression we get from using the CPS metric is that public schools are both dangerous and to blame for youth violence.

"For the past five years, with the general cooperation of Chicago's corporate media," Schmidt writes, "Chicago has shifted responsibility for the deaths of young people from the city's failure to eliminate the huge drug gangs to the schools."

Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say this has been a conscious strategy; I don't doubt the mayor's passion when it comes to guns and gangs, though I'm not a big fan of his policies. But in effect, to at least some extent, Schmidt is right. Once you frame the issue around how many CPS kids are killed, CPS becomes the focal point for not only blame but solutions. That's neither CPS's job nor within its capabilities.

Chief Jody
"Last fall, Weis announced, at a major media event, that CPD was establishing what students quickly called a 'snitch line'," Schmidt adds. "Supposedly a way of bringing high tech into the fight against school violence, the project quickly became a local joke. What people said was that Weis's snitch line is a sure fire way to get kids killed. I was at that silly press conference last fall at Dyett when Weis and Duncan announced the number to call. Then they announced that students who called in crime tips would get a 'reward.' Then they announced that all calls would be anonymous.' Then someone asked how they could give an award if the calls came in anonymously.

"And everyone stared at everyone else."

Sealed Deal
"Don't believe every judge who said your criminal record would be sealed," the Chicago Reporter says. Their investigation tells you why.

Let's Ask Cusack, Too!
The Tribune thought this David Schwimmer quote was worthing blowing up and placing on the cover of its Live! Section: "Willis Tower, huh? The Willis Tower? That's a bummer. But I guess it's their prerogative. They should call it something like The Building Formerly Known As Sears."

Oh Schwimmer, you're killing me!

No, really, you're killing me. Please go away.

And memo to the Trib: stop it.

Reel Deal
"Leo Burnett imported Los Angeles directors and personnel to shoot footage for Chicago 2016 Olympic 'bid films' aimed at showing the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission that Chicago is a city worthy of hosting the Olympics," Ruth Ratny reports at REEL CHICAGO.

"Although Leo Burnett and its Chicago 2016 Olympic (OC) client bypassed Chicago production companies to shoot beauty shots of their city, they twisted some local vendors' arms for the lowest possible rates for last week's shoot."

Smoke Up, Johnny
Electronic cigarettes - or E-Cigs - are here.

News Stews
* Quinn vs. Blago. Disgracing the dine-and-dash.

* The Trash Man's Gamble. Why Al Sanchez took the stand.

* Sanchez Gets Cross. Oops.
-

Al Capone by Cesar Calderon

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Cross-examined.

Posted by Lou at 10:09 AM | Permalink

E-Cigs Light Up!

Any editorial comment or mention that you may give this press release would be greatly appreciated.

E-CIG, A MANUFACTURER OF ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES, RELEASES NEW INNOVATIVE PRODUCT LINE DESPITE A RECENT NASTY PATENT INFRINGEMENT LAWSUIT

LAS VEGAS, NV - Following a tiresome patent infringement lawsuit, E-Cig says it is moving on with new innovative electronic cigarette products. The company has been battling to protect its product line after a manufacturer called Ruyan took the company to court over patent rights in February 2009.

Unfortunately, following the lawsuit Ruyan released statements that E-Cig was ordered to never manufacture or market its electronic cigarettes again. E-Cig has denied these claims in a statement found on the company's official Web site.

According to E-Cig, there was a lawsuit for the infringement of Ruyan's patent No. 200420031182.0. E-Cig says, however, the court ruled that there is no infringement for its new product line and that E-Cig is using its own new technology.

Though there's a definite discrepancy in what both parties are stating, E-Cig plans to move forward with the release of a new improved line of electronic cigarettes. Four of the new items are the E-Cig E8, E9, U8 and U9. The E-Cig E8 and E9 products use special rechargeable batteries and chargers, and the E-Cig U8 and U9 can be charged by connecting to a computer through the USB plug without the special rechargeable batteries and chargers. The E-Cig U8 is the smallest electronic cigarette of the world actually, which has exactly the same size as the traditional cigarette.

With such new, innovative E-Cig products, the smokers will be able to feel and smoke much more like they're smoking a traditional cigarette than any other electronic cigarettes, without the risks of smoking and of tobacco.

"The new models are equipped compactly with our new generation of the atomizer and cartridge, which are combined into only one piece with our new atomizing technology," states Sam Han, owner of E-Cig Technology Inc. Ltd.

So what exactly are electronic cigarettes? These are battery-powered or USB-powered cigarettes that operate with an e-liquid cartridge. They provide a healthy, affordable alternative to smoking real cigarettes. They look and feel like real cigarettes, but produce a vapor mist instead of smoke. Users can choose their E-Cig product with varying nicotine densities, selecting less nicotine than a usual cigarette or even no nicotine at all for a healthier choice.

Han says, "Electronic cigarettes are available in various flavors, colors and styles to accommodate smokers from all walks of life."

Posted by Lou at 3:39 AM | Permalink

March 17, 2009

The [Tuesday] Papers

1. All hail the Wesley Willis Tower.

2. Mental health advocates will picket the city health department on Thursday.

3. If you didn't do political work for the mayor, your job application with the city went in the trash.

4. Is Chicago's Olympic bid going off the rails, or is reality just setting in?

5. Bracketology: Do seeds matter? Not after the Sweet 16, U of I prof says.

6. "In a recent discussion on WVON radio," Don Wycliff writes, "Northeastern Illinois University political scientist Robert Starks observed that the black community has to stand behind the likes of Burris and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger because once such positions are lost to the community, they cannot, as a practical matter, be regained."

Memo to Starks:

A. It's offensive to suggest the black community has to stand behind incompetents for whatever reasons you conjure. It's just plain offensive.

B. Those positions don't belong to a "community" but to the constituents each represents. I happen to believe that the U.S. Senate seat held by Burris ought to remain in African-American hands as long as the rest of the chamber is all-white, but the job is to represent all Illinoisans, and African Americans are certainly capable of that, no?

C. Once lost, they cannot be regained? Supporting Burris may be the surest way for African Americans to lose that seat, as Cate Plys explains. Starks seems to be implying that qualified and competent African Americans are few; I beg to differ. Not any more or less so than whites or anyone else. (Toni Preckwinkle has announced her intention to run for Stroger's seat, just to cite an obvious example.)

7. Billy Corgan has never been about anything other than Billy Corgan. So his latest U-turns about the music business come as no surprise. It's hard to call someone a sell-out whose never been in. Jim DeRogatis takes the case.

"The Great Pumpkin declined an invitation from the Sun-Times to expand on his recent statements," DeRogatis writes. "Via e-mail, he wrote, 'I am loathe from here and ever on to talk about the music business. So honestly I'd rather not comment.'

"Ironically, that statement came about a week after he wrote his first letter to one Congressional subcommittee, and a week before he donned a suit and tie and traveled to Capitol Hill to read another letter to a different committee."

And what was so important to Corgan that he presented himself to two congressional committees? The proposed Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger. Corgan is all for it!

"'The combination of these companies creates powerful tools for an independent artist to reach their fans in new and unprecedented ways, all the while restoring the power where it belongs,' Corgan wrote to the Senate Committee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, which held a hearing on the merger last month. 'This is a new model that puts power into the hands of the artist, creating a dynamic synergy that will inspire great works and attract healthy competition'."

What a wonderful world it will be! Er . . .

"Critics of the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger range from congressmen on both the left and the right to many musicians' rights groups, and they all say that it will result in less competition - the opposite of what Corgan contends - since many acts will be forced to perform with the giant company or forgo touring altogether, as Pearl Jam discovered when it battled Ticketmaster in the mid-'90s," DeRogatis writes.

There's no way this merger will be good for anyone - except the new behemoth that will gouge the hell out of everyone.

"What changed?" DeRogatis asks. "Corgan has now put his career in the hands of super-manager Irving Azoff, who also happens to be the executive running Ticketmaster, and who stands to be one of the top forces in the new company if the merger is approved by the Justice Department.

COMMENT 12:18 P.M.: A Beachwood reader writes:

"Just to clarify, Corgan's testimony to Congress wasn't about the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger, but the Performance Rights Act bill, which is seeking to make terrestrial radio pay royalties to performers (currently only the composer earns royalty) like satellite/cable and web radio are required to do."

REPLY: Yes, thank you. To clarify: Corgan sent a letter to a congressional committee considering the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger, but actually appeared before another committee on the royalty issue.

8. "After a career spent carefully controlling the use of his songs, earlier this year, Corgan and Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin recorded a new tune titled 'FOL' specifically for an ad introducing Hyundai's new Genesis Coupe during the Super Bowl," DeRogatis writes. "And a few weeks ago, he went even further, licensing one of the Pumpkins' signature tracks, 'Today,' for use in a commercial for Visa credit cards."

DeRogatis digs this up from a 2004 Newsweek interview:

"If your music is not sacred to the point where it's a really, really, really heavy decision about whether or not you would allow somebody else to exploit it, then what's not for sale?" Corgan said. "'Today,' which ended up being a pretty big song - that song literally saved my life. I was completely suicidal, and I wrote that song in a cold bedroom on a day where it was like, 'I'm either going to kill myself today, or I'm going to live because I'm sick of thinking about this.' When I played it, it was an intense, extreme feeling. Last year, I was offered heavy, heavy money to license that song. I actually turned down two huge, huge, seven-figure-plus deals last year for two songs."

Maybe Corgan thinks that VISA can save your life too.

9. Finally, DeRogatis makes a point that I recently made about U2: "The tragedy is that this one-time visionary and skilled reader of the cultural zeitgeist, having established one of the most successful careers of his generation, is in the perfect position to test a truly independent new model."

Amen.

10. I'm outraged too about the $165 million in bonuses to AIG executives, but tell me again then - and I know the analogy isn't perfect - but tell me again why I shouldn't be outraged over the $7.7 billion for 8,570 earmarks in the president's budget.

*

"Seniority reigns on Capitol Hill, particularly during the scramble for earmark money," Kristen McQueary writes. "A research study on dog poop - if sponsored by the right congressman - is likely to get a greater share of funding than an unemployment training center with the unfortunate distinction of residing in a low-priority congressional district.

"That's the problem. Projects are not weighed holistically, nationally. There is no formulaic distribution of the money.

"Former Illinois U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald once described the system as legalized bribery. Lobbyists often reward politicians with a campaign donation, once their pet project gets inked into an earmark bill.

"Fitzgerald called for a prohibition on campaign donations from any entity benefitting from an earmark.

"You can guess how far that idea went - from Fitzgerald's mouth straight to the abyss."

11. "[T]he first lesson for all 11 million Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants is that the nation of your dreams is not mistreating you more than it has most previous arrivals," writes our very own David Rutter in The Lords of Ireland. "It mistreats almost everyone this way in the beginning."

12. Junior's Peotone Push.

13. Amazingly, this job also offers medical.

14. I haven't been able to keep up our already sparse Books section the last month or so; I do have an idea for how I'd like to do this section if someone is interested in taking it for themselves and running with it. If that person is you, please drop me a note.

15. Westinghouse Elevator in the Carbide Building

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Capacity 2,500 lbs.

Posted by Lou at 10:02 AM | Permalink

The Lords of Ireland

When the members of the clans McGlone and McCrystal disembarked in New York in the middle 1870s, they strode through the front door like Irish emperors.

They had come packed jowl to flank in the belly of a sailing steamer. They carried their pride inside them, clutched to their souls, for they all had come from lives they would never seek to reprise and from which escape seemed the only sane course.

They chose that particular method of entry because swimming from Ireland would have been far less efficient and they were more or less legal.

That is, they had papers from Victoria's government not only granting, but pretty much catapulting, their exit from The Sod.

American laws and regulations had no apparent argument against it.

And so they were here.

Eventually, they met with the Rutters of southern Indiana and previously the shores of Maryland and before that, the burgs of southern Germany

Thence, through many begettings, to me. My family begat a lot.

I am proud that not a man or woman among them laid claim to airs or honors above their station.

The only real problems started in this country when we began to think of ourselves as something other than fugitive but honorable riffraff.

The only person of any public note in either family was a long ago Rutter apprehended for assuming possession of a fine horse for which he had no bill of sale. It happened, my family informed me, late in the night, as was often the case when he carried out his equine adoptions.

But it was OK after brief but intense negotiations. They hung him for it.

This preamble merely states my pedigree as a great-great-grandson of immigrants who mostly played by the rules and produced sons and daughters who did likewise.

The pedigree gives all of us with it some degree of latitude about the current immigration debate.

It's a nasty piece of business couched in legalisms and high-talking hooey.

If I were an immigrant who skittered over the border from Mexico, I'd be mighty peeved that this country is not nearly as hospitable to immigrants as its self-image portrays. Our spin seems better than our reality.

But the truth is, America's image as a beacon of welcome is mostly public relations blarney cooked up by generations of immigrant descendants who don't remember much of what their great-greats experienced.

The mythmakers don't remember the misery that drove immigrants here or the rude indifference and hostility that often greeted the arrivals. Most of what we know about immigrant life - as with the Wild West - comes from movies, and not much of it is true.

America gave them a chance, and did that with grudging reluctance.

So, the first lesson for all 11 million Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants is that the nation of your dreams is not mistreating you more than it has most previous arrivals. It mistreats almost everyone this way in the beginning.

And don't feel so guilty violating immigration law, though I'm certainly not encouraging lawlessness.

American law tends to punish those most easily caught - and those with no money. That's you.

Washington hasn't figured out how to manage a porous border, but that's not your problem to bear. It's ours to fix.

My great-great-greats had barely enough for a steamer ticket. But if the only path to a new life had been across a muddy river near El Paso without proper papers, they still would have come.

And stood like emperors after the swim.

-

Previously by David Rutter:
* Blago's Kingdom For A Lawyer.
* Blago's Cursing Gets An "F".
* The Political Dictionary.
* The Super Bowl's Five Worst Moments.
* Roland's Racial Door Prize.
* Santo's Sad Saga.

Posted by Lou at 12:43 AM | Permalink

Bracketology: Do Seedings Matter?

Odds are, not after the Sweet 16, University of Illinois professor says

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For budding "bracketologists" busily weighing picks for their annual March Madness office pool, a University of Illinois professor has some advice on how to pick winners: In the later rounds of the tournament, ignore a team's seeding, which is a statistically insignificant predictor of a team's chances of winning.

According to Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of computer science and the director of the simulation and optimization laboratory at Illinois, for the top three seeds in the four regional brackets, the road to the Final Four of the NCAA men's Division I basketball championship will most likely play out according to their initial seeding in the first three rounds of the tournament - that is, the higher-seeded teams will most likely beat their lower-seeded opponents.

But once the field has been winnowed to the so-called "Elite Eight" teams, Jacobson says each team's odds of winning are statistically no different than a coin flip, no matter how high or low the teams were initially ranked at the start of the tournament.

"The deeper you get into the tournament," Jacobson said, "the less effective seeding is in predicting winners."

Jacobson said that for the 12 teams that comprise the top three seeds in each of the four regional brackets, seeding is an "excellent predictor" of the outcomes of the first three rounds of games with those teams.

"In the first round, the No. 1 seed has beaten the No. 16 seed 100 percent of the time," Jacobson said.

"But after the Sweet Sixteen, it is a statistical toss-up as to who wins the remaining games. A team's seeding can be thrown out the window. They really do not give you a good indication of who is going to win the games."

Jacobson, who, along with graduate student Douglas M. King, wrote an article titled "Seeding in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament: When is a Higher Seed Better?" that will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Gambling Business and Economics, said the impetus of the study was not to predict brackets or winners in advance of the tournament, but to see if the top three teams' seeding in each bracket is a good predictor of how far they will go in the "Big Dance."

"I have always been surprised that the first seeds seem to do better than the second seeds, who seem to do better than the third seeds," Jacobson said, "because you would think that there is not really a big difference between the top three seeds from each of the four regions."

So is there a statistically significant difference between what are ostensibly the top 12 teams in the country?

"The answer is both 'yes' and 'no,' " Jacobson said. "There are differences, but it is not a question as to whether they are different; it is a question as to when they are different, based on the rounds of the tournament. Seeds are important, but they start to lose their strength beginning in the Sweet Sixteen round. By the time they reach the Elite Eight, those teams were not statistically different than anyone else in the field."

Jacobson said that tournament seedings, which are determined by a 10-member committee of NCAA basketball athletic directors and conference commissioners from across the country, are an easy, convenient predictor for people with little knowledge of the current college basketball scene, but are ultimately useless in predicting the final three rounds of the six-round tournament.

Seasoned tournament-watchers, Jacobson said, may have seized upon this prediction strategy years ago, but he's definitively proven it through statistical analysis of data from the modern era of the tournament, beginning in 1985 when the field expanded to 64 teams. In 2001, the tournament expanded to include a 65th team in an opening-round game.

"What we are revealing statistically is something that college basketball fans probably already knew in their gut - that a team's seeding provides some indication as to how well it is going to do, but it does not necessarily give you the definitive predictor," Jacobson said. "There are always upsets, there are always Cinderellas who make the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight and even the Final Four, like George Mason did a few years ago."

For the average college basketball fan looking for an edge in their bracket predictions, Jacobson advises picking the higher seeds to beat their lower-seeded opponents in the first two rounds, but warned that the seed rankings begin to fall apart soon thereafter.

"In the Sweet Sixteen round, the rankings still hold, but just barely," he said. "From the Elite Eight round and onward, you might as well pick names out of a hat."

Jacobson said that other intangible factors besides a team's initial seeding, such as player match-ups, a team's style of play and its relative "hotness" or "coldness" prior to the game, has a greater effect on the outcome of contests in the later rounds of the tournament.

"Especially when you get into the Elite Eight," Jacobson said, "that is when you are going to see teams you do not expect to win, ending up winning games at a higher statistical rate than would be expected."

Despite its weakness as a predictive model, Jacobson doesn't believe the seed-based ranking system used by the NCAA needs to be replaced wholesale.

"The committee has a very challenging job seeding the teams, and the tournament format by design is exciting," he said.

"We are talking about bringing 65 teams together from all the major conferences - the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, PAC-10, ACC and the Big East - and then you have many teams that you rarely see on national television. But it should not change the seeding system, since seeds are not designed to predict the winner of each game, but rather, are based on a resume of performance for an entire season."

Posted by Lou at 12:10 AM | Permalink

March 16, 2009

Ready For Reform

Let's get caught up.

1. CHICAGO - Representatives of civic, business, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations will announce the start of a campaign to combat Illinois' culture of political corruption. Members of the coalition include:

* Peter Bensinger, former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

* Deborah Harrington, President, Woods Fund of Chicago

* George A. Ranney, President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020

* Cynthia Canary, Director, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

2. NEW COALITION VOWS TO CHANGE ILLINOIS LEADERS UNITE TO END CULTURE OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION IN ILLINOIS

CHICAGO - A coalition of civic, business, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations on Thursday launched a campaign to combat Illinois' culture of political corruption and urged other citizens to join in the battle to demand honest government.

The first priority of the non-partisan CHANGE Illinois coalition will be to reduce the influence of large campaign contributors by enacting strict limits on the amount of money that can be given to candidates and political action committees.

CHANGE Illinois advocates replacing the state's unregulated campaign finance system with one modeled after the contribution limit system in place at the federal level and in almost all other states. Contribution limits, combined with more frequent public reporting of contributions and strengthened oversight of campaign finance laws, would put Illinois on the road to real reform.

The growing coalition includes an impressive number of outstanding citizens and organizations prepared for a long-term commitment to reform.

"AARP has nearly 2 million members in Illinois, and the vast majority of them vote - so when the issues we represent them on like health care reform and fair utility rates don't move forward, you've got to wonder why," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois State Director, and a member of the coalition's steering committee. "For too long, we've seen business as usual stand in the way of progress as it should be. Something has got to change."

In partnership with its members, the CHANGE Illinois coalition plans to build a grassroots network that will keep the spotlight on reform. We will offer a blueprint for change and help citizens who share our concerns become active in the state's growing reform movement. A statewide speakers bureau, policy maker briefings, community forums, editorial board meetings, a web-based petition drive, advertising, and online communications will be used to educate citizens and mobilize public support for the steps needed to restore confidence in the political system. To initiate this effort, the coalition has launched a website (www.CHANGEIL.org).

"Illinoisans wanting to change the status quo of recurring scandals must step forward and press their legislative representatives for the change that is so desperately needed," Bensinger said. "Illinois has many outstanding and well-meaning public servants, and we know many will join us in this mission. However, their success in reforming the political system requires an involved electorate.

"A succession of high profile political scandals has left Illinoisans dismayed with politics as usual in Illinois," Bensinger said. "We have witnessed an alarming retreat from the basic values essential to a well-functioning democracy: honesty, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, and fairness."

"The rules of the political process have been deliberately manipulated and applied in ways that nearly always advantage incumbent officeholders, large donors, and political insiders," Harrington said. "We need new rules that will advantage ordinary citizens who have neither the resources nor influence to be heard.

"Corruption in government impacts all of us," Harrington continued. "It leads to wasteful spending; makes it more expensive to do business in Illinois; and thwarts an honest debate of critical issues."

"Historically in Illinois, voices with influence in Springfield have spoken only about legislation that matters to their organization or interest," Ranney said. "Today, we stand with long-time advocates of reform and give increased volume to their voices. We recognize that changing Illinois for the better - whether it be better schools, roads or any other important issue - requires changing government.

"Anyone interested in changing government, especially in Illinois, understands that the first target must be the money that drives the election system and too often influences legislative debates and fuels corruption and fraud," Ranney said.

Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR), said the creation of the coalition and the determination of its members is cause for optimism but also a reflection of the attitude of the general public.

"Recent polling found a majority of Illinoisans believe corruption is common among public officials, but they also believe that reform efforts are worthwhile," Canary said. "About three-quarters of Illinois voters said an overhaul of our weak campaign finance regulation system would make state government work better, and similar overwhelming majorities favor limiting the amount of money that can be contributed to political campaigns."

(Complete results of the survey commissioned and funded by The Joyce Foundation are available at www.ChangeIL.org.)

"Just as removing one officeholder will not clean up all of government, the coalition recognizes that campaign finance reform is not an elixir to the problem," Harrington said. "However, setting contribution limits is the best place to begin a long-term effort to make state government more representative of Illinoisans and more responsive to all citizens."

The coalition members agree that there are many avenues for political reform, including an end to gerrymandering of legislative districts, more openness in government, more public information about the economic interests of government officials, and tighter regulation of lobbying. Those and other ideas will be examined in the coming months.

Anyone interested in joining the coalition or learning more about its mission should visit its website (www.ChangeIL.org).

3. Members of the CHANGE Illinois coalition:

Co-Chairs
* Peter Bensinger, former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
* Deborah Harrington, President, Woods Fund of Chicago
* George A. Ranney, President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020

Steering Committee
* Chair: Paula Wolff, Senior Executive, Chicago Metropolis 2020
* Ellen Alberding, President, The Joyce Foundation
* John M. Buchanan, Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago
* Todd Dietterle, Common Cause Illinois
* Paul H. Dykstra, Partner, Bell, Boyd & Lloyd
* Bob Gallo, State Director, AARP
* Hoy McConnell, Executive Director, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest
* Newton Minow, Attorney, Sidley & Austin LLP
* Hon. Dawn Clark Netsch, Professor, Northwestern University School of Law
* Sylvia Puente, Executive Director, Latino Policy Forum
* Brenda Russell, Esq.
* Adlai E. Stevenson, Chairman, Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy
* Anton Valukas, Partner, Jenner & Block LLP

Member Organizations
* Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP)
* Better Government Association
* Business and Professional People for the Public Interest
* Center for Neighborhood Technology
* Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice
* Chicago Council of Lawyers
* Chicago Crime Commission
* Chicago Metropolis 2020
* Chicago Urban League
* The Civic Federation
* Common Cause Illinois
* Congress for New Urbanism
* Frontenac Company
* Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
* Illinois PIRG
* Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
* The Joyce Foundation
* Latino Policy Forum
* League of Women Voters of Illinois
* Openlands
* Protestants for the Common Good
* The United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations
* Woods Fund of Chicago

Individual Members
* Cameron S. Avery, Partner, Bell, Boyd & Lloyd
* Rev. Dr. Byron Brazier, Pastor, Apostolic Church of God
* Rev. Christine Chakoian
* Ronald E. Daly, Retired Chairman & CEO, Oce-USA Holding, Inc.
* J.R. Davis, Chicago Crime Commission
* Terry Dee, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis
* Tyrone C. Fahner, Mayer Brown LLP Partner and Former Chairman
* Brother James Gaffney, FSC, President, Lewis University
* Brooke Hecht
* Philip Hummer
* Tom Johnson, Taxpayers' Federation
* Arthur L. Kelly, KEL Enterprises, L.P.
* Hon. Abner Mikva
* Michael H. Moskow, Vice Chairman and Senior Fellow, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
* Hon. John Norquist, Congress for New Urbanism
* Raul I. Raymundo, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, The Resurrection Project
* Kent Redfield, The Sunshine Project
* Maria N. Saldana, Managing Director, Duncan Williams, Inc.
* Sheryl Sharp
* Adele Smith Simmons, Vice Chair & Senior Executive, Chicago Metropolis 2020
* Hon. Sam Skinner, United States Attorney Northern District of Illinois 1975-1977 Greenberg Traurig
* Harrison Steans
* James P. Stirling, Senior Vice President, UBS
* Richard L. Thomas, Retired Chairman, First Chicago NBD Corporation
* Don A. Turner, President Emeritus, Chicago Federation of Labor
* Clarence Wood, retired chairman of City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations
* Hon. Corinne G. Wood

4. WHERE DO OUR LEADERS STAND ON FIXING THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE SYSTEM?

BGA and Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Announce Campaign Finance Survey

CHICAGO - Following the most outrageous political scandal in what many describe as one of the most corrupt states in the nation, the Better Government Association and Illinois Campaign for Political Reform have teamed up to survey every constitutional officer and member of the Illinois General Assembly on the vital issue of campaign finance limits.

The 182 surveys - to the state's five constitutional officers, 119 house members and 59 state senators - were sent last week in advance of the March 16-17 campaign finance hearings in Springfield. The six question survey asks candidates unequivocally whether they favor or oppose caps on contributions and other campaign finance reform proposals.

Corruption is a familiar plague in Illinois. The current campaign finance system, which sets no limits on who may give or how much they can contribute, is widely considered as a key culprit. While the Blagojevich scandal is the most extreme example of campaign finance abuse, the current framework allows unlimited campaign money to taint the political system.

Illinois is currently one of only five states with no limits on campaign contributions.

"In this state, any person or organization can make unlimited contributions, even if the money is coming from a company that is regulated by state government. In most states, campaigns can only accept money from individuals and place a cap on how much one person can give," said Cindi Canary, ICPR's director.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Better Government Association want the state's elected officials to take a stand on this vital reform measure.

"The people of Illinois deserve to know whether our leaders intend to fix our broken system or sit on the side lines and protect the status quo," said David Lundy, BGA acting executive director.

5. CHANGE ILLINOIS GIVES VOTERS A TOLL-FREE HOTLINE TO ASK LEGISLATORS TO LIMIT CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

DIAL 1-800-719-3020

SPRINGFIELD - The CHANGE Illinois coalition on Monday opened a toll-free hotline for Illinoisans to call 1-800-719-3020 and tell their legislators to enact campaign contribution limits.

Callers to the CHANGE Illinois Hotline will be connected directly to their state legislators.

"Large campaign contributions in Illinois are muting the voice of the public and preventing real progress on the issues that matter," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois Senior State Director. "Enough is enough - we need campaign contribution limits now. The people deserve to get their voice back."

AARP is reaching out to its nearly 2 million members across Illinois asking them to call the hotline and urge their legislators to stop the flow of special interest money into Springfield. The number also will be featured in an upcoming article in the AARP Bulletin publication which is sent to all AARP members in the state.

Launched in late February, CHANGE Illinois is a coalition of civic, business, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations aligned to bring government integrity to Illinois. The coalition includes many civic leaders and organizations, including AARP, the Chicago Urban League, The Civic Federation, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and the Latino Policy Forum.

CHANGE Illinois also today announced many additional members, including the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the Citizen Advocacy Center, the Community Renewal Society, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Southwest Organizing Project and Voices for Illinois Children. (Complete list of members available at www.ChangeIL.org.)

The three co-chairs of CHANGE Illinois - Peter Bensinger, former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Deborah Harrington, President, Woods Fund of Chicago; and George Ranney, President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020 - were scheduled to appear Monday afternoon before the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Government Reform.

CHANGE Illinois advocates replacing the state's unregulated campaign finance system with one modeled after the contribution limit system in place at the federal level and in almost all other states. Contribution limits, combined with more frequent public reporting of contributions and strengthened oversight of campaign finance laws, would put Illinois on the road to real reform.

"While money is said to be the mother's milk of politics, it is also the grease on the wheels of corruption in government," Bensinger said. "Illinois needs a major change in its political climate, and that requires new rules limiting contributions to candidates and strong oversight of the campaign finance system."

"There are many fine men and women throughout our government, but they are toiling in a system that clearly is broken," Ranney said. "Illinois voters are skeptical about the fairness of government, and business executives around the world are, too. The headlines about recent scandals cemented the state's bad reputation and left business leaders wary about investing in Illinois."

"The unlimited nature of the state's current campaign finance system has left those with little resources feeling they have little power to influence government," Harrington said. "But as long as their voices are loud and we all work together, we have the ability to change our government. Changing the status quo is never easy, but it is not impossible."

In partnership with its members, the CHANGE Illinois coalition is building a grassroots network that will keep the spotlight on reform. In addition to the toll-free hotline and advertising to mobilize public support, the effort will include a speakers bureau, policy-maker briefings, community forums, editorial board meetings, a web-based petition drive, and online communications.

"Removing one person from office does not solve the problem," said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "Unlimited campaign contributions have led to wasteful spending, altered the power structure and distorted the debate of issues in Springfield."

Canary pointed out that the federal election system limits contributions to candidates and 45 other states have laws limiting contributions.

"Limiting contributions is not all that is needed to make our government fair and honest, but it is a very important step," Canary said. "Contribution limits will help make state government more representative of Illinoisans and more responsive to all citizens."

The coalition members agree that there are many avenues for political reform, including an end to gerrymandering of legislative districts, more openness in government, more public information about the economic interests of government officials, and tighter regulation of lobbying. Those and other ideas will be examined in the coming months.

Posted by Lou at 7:28 PM | Permalink

The [Monday] Papers

In the last two years, a new metric has taken hold to gauge the level of youth violence in the city: the number of Chicago Public Schools students killed.

I've questioned before whether this is a meaningful number; what do the schools have to do with it? And particularly, what do the public schools have to do with it?

It's true that some of these tragedies have occurred to kids on their way to and from school. But still, I have to side with police and school officials featured in a Tribune story on Sunday.

"The problem expands far beyond just public school students, none of whom have been killed in recent years on school property during school hours, police and school officials said," the Tribune reported.

A Sun-Times editorial last week noted that "Bryan Samuels, the top CPS official who oversaw [a] data analysis, found the shootings were typically much closer to the victim's home than to his or her school. The median distance from the shooting to the victim's home was 0.4 miles, while the median distance to the victim's school was 1.2 miles.

"CPS also found that 70 percent of the shootings took place between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. - outside the hours of the school day and after-school programs."

And yet, that very editorial opened this way: "In this school year alone, 25 Chicago Public Schools children have been murdered."

This isn't a CPS problem. Mostly, it's a gang problem.

"Gang conflicts are the leading cause for Chicago's homicides overall, accounting for 45 percent of those in which a motive is known," the Tribune reported on Sunday. "Police say it's also the No. 1 motive behind killings of youths."

To attach this to CPS is both unfair and inaccurate.

That's not to say CPS doesn't have a role to play; of course it does. Consider:

"In a University of Chicago study of gun violence among school-age children in the city, researchers found that the turning point for most happens at 13 or 14. Nearly half of the youths in juvenile detention were poor students who, after dropping out of school, turned to gangs as a means of support."

Whatever can be done to keep kids in school ought to be done. But ultimately, the issue is poverty. And that's something CPS can't solve.

Quinn's Tax
"Quinn's plan is tax neutral for a family of four earning about $56,000 a year, with households earning less getting a bigger tax cut from the increase in the personal deduction as income drops," the Tribune reported on Sunday in a nice piece of perspective.

"That $56,000-a-year figure is very close to the 2007 U.S. Census estimate of median family income in Illinois - a point at which half the households in the state earn more and half earn less."

Nicely done.

"[A] family of four with an income of $100,000 a year would pay the state an additional $660 in taxes - or nearly 25 percent more."

Which certainly doesn't sound like an onerous burden to me. And again, note how the use of percentages can sometimes distort; not only in comparison to the raw number but in comparison to the 50 percent rate increase we've been hearing about. There are times for raw numbers, and times for percentages. This is a time for raw numbers: how much will we have to pay?

Pundit Patrol
* Dear Sears Tower: Don't let the sky scrape your ass on the way out. A new Open Letter by our very own Cate Plys.

* "I was only troubled by the way the half-hour battering of Cramer made him look almost like a fall guy for the global recession and financial collapse," writes Clarence Page. "He's more of a symptom of an underlying pathology of the media."

But that was exactly Jon Stewart's point when he said to Cramer, "This isn't about you."

But whether it's the Iraq War, the financial collapse, Chicago's corrupt City Hall, or the struggles of newspapers, the media never seems to understand that the solution is to change the way you do your jobs.

The Daily Show and the Onion are as much scathing indictments of our news organizations as they are satirical representations of our lives in these United States. It's like Dilbert - you shouldn't just laugh about it and say, "Heh heh, yup, that's the way it is alright!" You should change the way it is. Because there's a big price to be paid for not doing so.

* The Rock 'N' Roll Highway Revisited. Who knew it was in Arkansas? Our very own Don Jacobson did.

* "Nine years into the 21st Century, why isn't every squad car in America equipped with a dashboard video camera?" Steve Chapman asks. "Why do we persist on relying on the slippery, self-interested, incomplete and unverified accounts of opposing participants when we have the means to see the truth with our own eyes?"

It turns out that only 11 percent of Chicago Police Department squad cars have cameras that record traffic stops. The department (in other words, the mayor) says it's a matter of cost. But, Chapman writes, "Spending $13 million looks extravagant only until you compare it to the cost of losing lawsuits over police misconduct. From 2005 through the middle of 2008, says the Chicago Reader, the city paid out $115 million in police cases. Dashboard cameras don't have to prevent many million-dollar judgements to be a bargain."

I wonder what the efficacy and revenue-generation of dashboard cameras is versus red-light cameras.

* Spring flings and tourney trash talk. By our very own Jim Coffman.

* "St. Patrick did not bring Christianity to Ireland so we could get drunk and drive home on his feast day," Abdon Pallasch writes today.

Trash & Cash
* Daley On Trial.

* Mystery of the Dan Ryan.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Mysteries solved.


Posted by Lou at 10:21 AM | Permalink

SportsMonday: Spring Hope, Tourney Trash

Ahhh, spring training: the sunshine . . . the green grass . . . the games that have so little to do with what will happen in the first month of the regular season. That is especially the case back home in Chicago, of course, where chilly weather baseball is a little different than desert diamond doings. But still, there have been plenty of promising storylines playing out over the past month with the White Sox and the Cubs. And then there is that World Baseball Classic thing. The U.S. apparently stayed alive with a 9-3 victory over noted baseball power the Netherlands last night. USA! US . . .

I think I'll head on back to Arizona now, where we find that:

The teams on both sides of town appear to have all sorts of pitching depth. Again, beware drawing conclusions based on spring training siren songs, but Jose Contreras stepped up with four strikeouts in two innings yesterday for the Sox and fellow veteran reclamation project Bartolo Colon, who has displayed impressive pop (the sound that a lively fastball makes as it slams into a catcher's glove) in recent side sessions, goes today. The Sox' top three starters, Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks, have all been solid, and youngsters Clayton Richard and Jeff Marquez continue to impress (although Marquez gave up some runs in relief on Sunday).

As for the Cubs, who knows whether Ted Lilly's stint with the national team at the aforementioned WBC will translate into regular season success, but his consistency the last few years is reassuring. It is clear that aces Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster are raring to go, and Rich Harden, who gave up a few runs Sunday, has a very good shot to be very good, for at least a few starts anyway, before his shoulder starts aching again. But if he goes down, the Cubs have flame-throwers Jeff Samardzija and Aaron Heilman lined up behind projected fifth-starter Sean Marshall. Is there a team in the National League that wouldn't trade pitching staffs with the Cubs? Maybe the Diamondbacks and, OK, probably the Phillies just because it would be bad form to trade your pitching staff right after it won you the World Series. But that's it.

Cubs left-handed hitters Mike Fontenot and especially Micah Hoffpauir have had great springs. Maybe the inevitable Milt Bradley injury will be a good thing because it will give Hoffpauir the chance to go to work in right field. His outfield defense is a big question mark of course but his bat (another home run on Sunday) is not. And Fontenot, who has piled up impressive stats the past two seasons (on-base percentages near .400 . . . off the charts on-base-plus-slugging) is now your starting second baseman.

The White Sox have a ridiculous number of grade A prospects. Of course that means it is time to trade them. The longer you keep guys like infield wunderkinds Gordon Beckham or Dayan Viciedo, the longer opposing teams have to figure them out and take them down. Remember the trade offers for Felix Pie back before he was shown to have far too long a swing to sustain success in the Bigs? I know the Sox won't really trade their $10 million dollar man from Cuba (Viciedo) or their top draft pick from last year, but there's a great chance their value will never be higher.

Tourney Trash Talk
Do people who take even a little bit of time to look at the ever-growing ridiculousness that is major college sports really get excited about the tournament any more? We all remember that just about all of the coaches are mercenaries at best, right? That they are always ready to move on to a higher-prestige, higher-paying job? That the naive players receive sub-standard educations and no other compensation for starring in this billion-dollar show?

The highlight of the final few weeks of the regular season for me was tuning into an ESPN broadcast of the Louisville-West Virgina Big East pre-conference-tournament finale and listening to Dickie V singing the praises of odious Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins. Huggins was the guy who flirted with zero percent graduation rates during long portions of his extended tenure at the helm of Cincinnati basketball. He was finally run out of town but was given another chance at Kansas State. He repaid receiving that opportunity by jumping to West Virginia for more money the first chance he got. But his Mountaineers went on a strong run through the Big East tournament, baby, and they'll have plenty of momentum heading into the Big Dance! They've got a bunch of diaper dandies! Make sure you put them in your Sweet 16.

I know guys like Dick Vitale can never stray from the script dictated by the cult of the coach in order to justify their ridiculous positions in life (making hundreds of thousands of dollars yammering about minor-league sports). Surely late at night, though, the thought has to occur to them that they are nothing but cheerleaders for a fundamentally corrupt enterprise.

Hawkville
Trouble in Hawks-land: the local hockey franchise is now firmly ensconced in "the doldrums," as analyst Steve Konroyd put it during the third period of the team's 4-2 loss to the Islanders Sunday. Rookie goalie Pete Mannino (40 saves) stood on his head for sizable portions of the first two periods for the visiting victors but the Hawks also were far from their best. That was especially the case in the first half of the third period, when they couldn't even muster a shot despite a two-goal deficit.

The good news is, the team, which is 4-6-2 in its last 12 home games, now heads out on the road. The Hawks travel to New Jersey to face the Devils on Tuesday starting at 6 p.m.

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Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday. Comments are welcome.


Posted by Lou at 8:27 AM | Permalink

Open Letter

Don't let the sky scrape your ass on the way out. There is only one downside to your imminent renaming: Sears Tower by any other name is still Sears Tower.

My antipathy toward you is two-fold. I despise the craven avarice of your former corporate master, and aesthetically, I loathe your every I-beam.

If only there was one single aspect of you which I did not despise, I could easily work up some feeling for this passing piece of Chicago history. Normally my nostalgia knows no bounds. Two of the chairs in my dining room are seats from the original Comiskey Park. I eat my breakfast cereal every day with a spoon I stole from the Berghoff about 20 years ago. It has "The Berghoff" written in a graceful script on the handle. I still miss the Magikist sign at 85th and the Dan Ryan, which I rank right up there with the Water Tower. It was prettier, too. It glowed red.

Just to be clear on this point, I refer to the so-called "Metra Electric Line" as "the IC". The Chicago Cultural Center is and always will be the library. The Thompson Center remains the State of Illinois Center, Aon Center is the Standard Oil Building, and the Calumet Expressway has no religious title.

I realize something now. Some years back, one of my kids asked why a word was that particular word and not some other word. That is, why were those sounds chosen to represent a particular object? In the ensuing discussion of language, I mentioned it would be kind of funny if someone raised their children, in some isolated setting, by making up nonsense words for everything. I pointed out that when the kids eventually encountered the civilized world, they'd be unable to communicate with anyone, a concept that astounded my daughters at the time. I didn't mean to, but in a way I've actually done this, albeit on a smaller scale.

For you Sears Tower, I will make an exception. I won't even wait for it to become official - I'll begin calling you Willis Tower right now, today. When other people refer to "Willis Tower," my kids will know what they're talking about. Why the Willis people would pay to have their name associated with the biggest, ugliest building in the country's third largest city, I can't imagine. But I'm happy to accommodate them.

Did I say "ugly"? I should have said "ugly enough to serve as the Gates of Hell." I'm aware that Sears Tower was built as it was to house vast numbers of Sears employees on its lower floors, and that it's considered an engineering feat. The "bundled tube" design by Fazlur R. Khan and all that. However, feats of engineering are not, by definition, beloved, beautiful, or even faintly attractive. The Archimedes screw is a feat of engineering, but it would be perverse to force a city of three million people to look at a 110-story screw whenever they surveyed their skyline. (Then again, the Chicago Spire will look much like a giant Archimedes screw, and it should be much more attractive than Sears Tower.)

Bruce Graham, the architect who designed both the John Hancock and Sears Tower, is quoted in the Encyclopedia of Chicago calling architecture "the design of space, both interior and exterior." Fine. But then he goes on, "And it's the idea, of course, in modern architecture . . . to express that space so the people understand it rather than imperial palaces and imperial avenues . . . (A)nd that search for creating as I call a dance is what tells what's a good architect and what's a bad architect. They don't have the sense of movement of spacing . . . "

Maybe. My feeling is that one can use conceptual phrases to dress up something like Sears Tower, but anything that can literally be recreated by a three-year-old with a shoebox full of Lego - or just a few different shoeboxes - falls somewhere short of artistic genius.

The Sears Tower entry in the 1993 edition of the AIA Guide to Chicago, written by Michael Bordenaro, even admits that "Sears Tower has always been more of a structural engineering triumph than an architectural accomplishment. While Graham and Kahn were like a well-oiled twin-cam engine firing on all cylinders when they designed the elegant John Hancock Center, the architectural manifold was slightly backfiring when they were running the Sears 500."

I'm not much for modern architecture, but who doesn't like the John Hancock? I think modern architecture is a bit like pornography: good modern architecture is something average people (rather than pretentious architects and intellectuals) just like when they see it. If you have to come up with convoluted metaphors about dancing and such to prove a piece of modern architecture is beautiful, then it's probably not. More likely it just sucks.

I find it deeply embarrassing that you, Sears Tower - sorry, Willis Tower! - are inextricably linked with Chicago in the world's mind. New York gets the likes of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, and we're stuck with a colossal steel replica of the cardboard recycling pile on my back porch.

I've been bitterly disappointed since you were built, a process that started when I was just six years old. My grandparents had brought me a small gold-colored Empire State Building pencil sharpener from a visit to New York, and during your construction, I greatly anticipated having something just as beautiful to call our own here in Chicago. My mini-Empire State Building would get some company. As it turned out, you were not worth the price of a pencil sharpener.

I'm reminded of my friend Rob's first tiny Manhattan condo in a hideous '50's-era high-rise that mutilates a terrific stretch of 12th Street. It's a wonderful block of brownstones and greystones and whateverstones. When I first saw it, Rob seemed a bit embarrassed by his own building, particularly the stark contrast with its neighbors. But I pointed out that if he was going to live on that block, better to live inside the ugly building and look at the beautiful ones than live in the beautiful ones and look at the big ugly one. He got the better view. Sears Tower is literally the largest example of this principle in the Western Hemisphere. Who cares what it's called? The building will remain revolting as ever. The view from the observatory won't change, at least not instantly, and not because of the new name.

Now, onto my animosity for your former corporate masters. Hello! Sears abandoned Chicago in 1992.

Maybe it's true that Sears needed cheaper housing for its 6,000-employee Merchandise Group, and space at Sears Tower had become too valuable for them. There was the accusation at the time that Sears moved to Hoffman Estates because it was a convenient way to shed a lot of minority city workers. I never thought it was that simple. I thought it was unmitigated greed coupled with a complete disregard for its employees and the city of Chicago. In short, I figured it might as well have been true.

Sears was contributing to a very troublesome trend. One Tribune article examining the move quoted a 1983 study by the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, which found, "In general, job growth is occurring in extremely racially segregated areas in which population growth is overwhelmingly white."

Yes, Sears established a system of vans and subscription Pace buses to serve a headquarters deliberately placed nowhere near public transportation. That couldn't mean much to the South Siders who found themselves with daiy two-hour commutes, one-way.

Sears could hardly expect these workers to afford a move to the northwest suburbs, either. A Tribune article quoted one Sears employee who had to triple her mortgage when she moved from Bellwood to Hoffman Estates - and she had to pay her own moving costs too. Way to go, Sears.

But alright - let's say Sears just couldn't afford to keep its headquarters in Sears Tower. Let's say they had to move to cheaper digs. Mayor Daley aggressively courted Sears. The then-undeveloped South Loop wasn't good enough for them, oh no. Daley came up with something you might think would be attractive to a company then estimated to have 52,000 out-of-town business visitors per year: a huge chunk of land on the north side of O'Hare, south of the Northwest Tollway between Wolf and Lee Roads. Gov. Jim Thompson promised that the state's incentive package for Sears to stay in Illinois could be "applied equally" to either city or suburban sites. It was never entirely clear if Thompson broke that promise, but even if he did, the O'Hare land package could not have been shabby. Still, no deal.

Did Sears care about the economic impact on Chicago? Apparently not. At the time, John R. Lanahan, then partner in Laventhol & Horwath's Chicago office, analyzed the Sears move and told the Tribune the city's economy would lose "a minimum of $700 million a year," plus another $60 million per year that would have been spent in Chicago by Sears business visitors.

Chicago's Economic Development Commission estimated the city would have gained "$86 million in economic benefits over the next eight years" if Sears had taken the proffered O'Hare site, according to another Tribune article. And Laventhol's Lanahan pointed out that Chicago also missed out on the approximately $200 million spent on construction of the new Sears office headquarters and the hundreds of construction jobs involved.

Instead, Sears took what was then the most expensive incentive package ever from the state of Illinois to screw over Chicago, in the process forcing about 3,000 Chicagoans to either move to the suburbs and spend far more on housing, endure an inhumane commute, or lose their jobs. That doesn't even include the workers from south and west suburbs, many of whom faced commutes as bad, or worse, than their city colleagues.

So I've enjoyed watching Sears continue its descent into retail purgatory these past 17 years. Others may "buy black" or direct their purchases only to organic stores or mom-and-pop stores. My strategy is don't-buy-Sears. When I discovered that Abt Electronics both delivers to the South Side and services there, I was truly set free. I made an exception about four years ago for a Kenmore hyper-allergenic vacuum cleaner rated highest by Consumer Reports, and it's worked out just the way a deal with the devil always does. In this case, at least two trips a year to the Sears service center. Never again.

Willis Tower, I will always dislike you. Even if they actually paint you silver, although it might help your dowdy look. However, you have atoned for half your sins by dumping the accursed Sears name. I suppose it's only fair to dislike you 50% less. Which raises the age-old question: Is the glass half-empty or half-full? In your case, of course, the question will be whether your office space is half-empty.

Sincerely,

Cate Plys

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Open Letter is open to letters.

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See who else Cate has written to - from Lin Brehmer and The Person Who Let Their Dog Defecate Near The Southeast Corner Of 58th And Kimbark to Fellow Parents Planning Birthday Parties and Macy's - in the Open Letter archive.

Posted by Lou at 5:46 AM | Permalink

March 15, 2009

The Rock 'N' Roll Highway Revisited

If U.S. Highway 61, which runs from the Canadian border in northern Minnesota to New Orleans, is "the Blues Highway," then U.S. Highway 67 - which in its heyday ran from Iowa to Mexico - is the "Rock 'n' Roll Highway."

In rock 'n' roll terms, the crucial stretch of Highway 67 was the part in northeastern Arkansas that ran through such burgs as Batesville, Newport, Swifton, Trumann and Walnut Ridge. Not too far from Memphis, where the rockabilly explosion was centered from 1955 to 1959 or so, Highway 67 boasted a swath of funky roadhouses and disreputable dives that appealed to the earliest crop of rockers, who piled into their Chevies and worked their way up and down this strip, leaving booze-fueled, pill-popping, duck-assed mayhem in their wakes.

The reason I'm bringing all this up is that the Arkansas Legislature is on the verge of designating the stretch of the road through Jackson, Lawrence and Randolph counties as "Rock 'n' Roll Highway 67," which, Rep. J.P. Richards of Walnut Ridge hopes, will spur tourism. Its history is indeed rich and its legend got a big boost from Joaquin "Hip Hop" Phoenix's turn as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, in the scenes where he and fellow Sun Records rockabilly killers, like the 1950s icons they were, were all piled into a car, speeding along in the country darkness at night, dreaming big dreams of where their powerful music will take them.

They were probably hoping it was out of Jackson County, Arkansas.

walnut.jpg

Despite the burnishings of the movie, I doubt the actual reality of northeast Arkansas was all that glamorous. From what I've been able to piece together from my mad Internet searching skillz, northeastern Arkansas actually sucked pretty bad back then (it may still, for all I know). There was a lot of cotton to be picked under a hella hot sun, and if you were poor (and most people were), black or white, you spent most of your days working in the fields. At night you were listening to barn dance shows like the Grand Ol' Opry or the Louisiana Hayride on your crappy tube radio.

On Saturday nights, if you were white, you might find yourself at a someplace like the Silver Moon Club in Newport or the B&I Club in Swifton. As described by the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture Project, "Some (of these) establishments were small, rough country venues where farmers in bib overalls arrived on tractors, seeking evenings of excessive drinking, fighting, and flirtation. Some clubs, such as Beverly Gardens in Little Rock, could accommodate 200 to 300 people. The largest club in Arkansas at this time was the Silver Moon in Newport, which could seat more than 800 people."

Weekend after weekend, folks there could watch the influential figures in early rock 'n' roll history roll through town, people like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Levon Helm, Narvel Felts, Sleepy LaBeef, Sonny Burgess, Billy Lee Riley, and Ronnie Hawkins. They all got their starts playing live gigs in dives along Highway 67, singing their sexed-up, crazy-fast, three-chord odes to cars, parties and fast living to a downtrodden bunch of Arkansas farmers and bored kids desperately seeking some release from a poverty-stricken reality.

This is what rock 'n' roll originally meant and was what gave it its credibility. And as such, a "Rock 'n' Roll Highway" deserves to be recognized.

But, assuming the Arkansas Tourism Board grabs this idea and runs with it, what will pilgrims actually see when they get down to Jackson County and the surrounding environs? The best answer comes from the website of Scotty Moore, Elvis' guitarist for 14 years, where photographer and guitar enthusiast James V. Roy chronicled his own visits in 2007 to the scenes of Elvis' early tour stops, including those in northeast Arkansas.

The answer is: not much is left of these places. Unless you count bits of terrazzo left baking under the Mid-South sun to be transcendent experience. For instance, in Newport, the Silver Moon, which was the home to many performances by Elvis and the rockabilly greats, has been reduced to a few square feet of bathroom tile floor on top of a concrete foundation. It sits next to a Quonset-hut-looking building that is the current Silver Moon (halfway down the page). I mean, this is akin to archeology.

In better shape is Bob King's B&I Club in Swifton. At least that's still an actual building. It's actually still open and called Bob King's King of Clubs, divided, Roy says, into two sectors: a bar and a "private dance club" open to members only. The owner of the illustrious club died last year at age 83. "He was one of the best club owners I ever knew," said Sonny Burgess.

Other clubs on the "Rock 'n' Roll Highway" included the Cotton Club in Trumann, Ark., where Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison put on legendary shows, as well as Mike's 67 Club and Porky's Roof Top Club in Newport. Good luck finding what's left of these places, Arkansas travelers.

The one thing that a "Rock 'N' Roll Highway" makes you realize once again, however, is where this musical phenomenon came from, and why white America will probably never again come up with anything as authentic. Where it came from was poverty - the grinding hopelessness that was the norm in the rural South of that era is what caused it, and the emergence of media technology is what turned it into a force. Note that the suffering came first, then the technology, which is the opposite of how it works today.

Maybe if the next Great Depression turns us all into shoeless cotton pickers again, and social taboos are separating us from another race (Muslims this time?) whose attitude we can cherry-pick, we'll be able to come up with another phenomenon like Arkansas rock 'n' roll.

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From the Beachwood Country All-Stars to Dylan's Grammy Museum, the finest bones of rock 'n' roll are rattlin' 'round Don's Root Cellar.

Posted by Don at 2:59 PM | Permalink

March 14, 2009

The Weekend Desk Report

Note: Weekend Desk Editor Natasha Julius is advising the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee on her unique bracket algorithms in order to ensure maximum enjoyment for all of America this year. The Weekend B Team is filling in on the desk to make sure no news goes unnoticed in her absence.

Bank of Beijing
We here at the Weekend Desk, for one, would like to welcome our new Chinese overlords. We'd like to remind them that, as a trusted news source, we could be helpful in rounding up others to work in your leaden toy factories and prison sweatshops.

Job Bank
Meanwhile, sources close to the Weekend Desk say that China has signed contracts with Operation Repo, Dog the Bounty Hunter, and Stewie Griffin to broadcast its attempts to collect on America's debt. We were not able to confirm, however, rumors that President Obama would appear in the next commercial for freecreditreport.com.

Post-Earth
President Obama announced on Friday that his economic team was working on the creation of a "post-bubble" economic model. Separately, the president's Council of Science Advisers said they were working on a post-gravity model, while the Justice Department announced it was working on a post-crime model. Each should be ready for publication in peer-reviewed academic journals by the time America is post-Obama.

First Lady Alert
Michelle Obama says she watches "non-important TV" when she wants to relax before bed. Ha! "Non-important TV!" Talk about an oxymoron.

Chicagolympics
The city's Olympic committee has ditched its slogan "Stir the Soul" for the new "Let Friendship Shine." Apparently "Stir the Soul" translated to "Stir Your Insides" in some languages. And in some precincts of Chicago, it translated to "Hold On To Your Wallet." In some languages, "Let Friendship Shine" translates to "Let Friendship Pay" and is designed to assure both pals of the mayor and members of the IOC that the Chicago Way is alive and kicking butt.

Green River
Today's St. Patrick's Day Parade has been renamed the Willis Day Parade. Behave accordingly.

Elsewhere
* The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week.
* CSI: Chumbolone.
* The Z Man's Political Army.
* The Foreclosure Economy.
* On the Triple Crown Trail.

Footworkin'

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Post-tips.

Posted by Lou at 10:06 AM | Permalink

March 13, 2009

The [Friday] Papers

I want to talk a little bit more about that story in the Sun-Times yesterday about how Chicago had the third most Twitter users in the world because it has a larger relevance, as I hope to show.

The story placed Chicago behind just London and Los Angeles on the list of most Twitter users - and ahead of New York City.

Now, on the face of it, this is absurd. The population of New York City is 8.2 million. The population of Chicago is 2.8 million. Even setting aside the fact that New York City is the media capital of the world, does it make any sense at all that we could possibly have more Twitter users than NYC?

As I wrote yesterday, I went to the source of the story and found this at the very top: "Note: Rankings are by total number of twitter users (based on the 'Location' setting). This only works for users whose locations we could actually parse."

Scrolling through the list of top 50 cities, I found "New York" ranked fourth - and "Brooklyn" ranked 19th.

Clearly Chicago does not have the third most Twitter users in the world.

After receiving a call from a TV reporter, I dug in a little more. I found a "State of the Twittersphere 2008" report from the same folks who put out the rankings in question. On page 8 you can see that location settings include "New York," "New York City," "NYC," "Brooklyn," etc.

Now, is this the biggest deal in the world? Of course not. But it says something not only about the state of reporting, but the state of editing. Nobody thought, "Gee, that doesn't sound right?"

It's also on the small end of the same spectrum that, dare I say, leads the media to fail when it covers topics as large as a nation preparing to go to war. I don't think that's a stretch. Here's why.

Bob Somerby - a progressive Democrat who supports Barack Obama - wrote a post on his Daily Howler yesterday titled "MISSISSIPPI YEARNING! Obama embraced a ridiculous claim. The New York Times rushed to endorse it."

"It's odd when someone who's basically smart starts saying things which basically aren't," Somerby wrote. "We got that odd feeling when we read certain parts of Obama's speech on education, the one he delivered on Tuesday. For example, what does the highlighted statement mean? This passage comes from an important part of Obama's speech. But we had just the vaguest idea:

OBAMA (3/10/09): Let's challenge our states to adopt world-class standards that will bring our curriculums into the 21st century. Today's system of fifty different sets of benchmarks for academic success means fourth-grade readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming - and getting the same grade. Eight of our states are setting their standards so low that their students may end up on par with roughly the bottom 40 percent of the world.

"That whole paragraph is impressively murky. But let's look at the highlighted statement.

"According to Obama, fourth-grade readers in Mississippi 'are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming - and getting the same grade.' Does anyone know what that actually means? Mississippi kids are scoring 'seventy points lower' on what? (Seventy points can represent a very large or very small difference in achievement, depending on the measure in question.) And what 'same grade' are both groups of kids getting? This was a very important speech - and this was a central contention within it. And yet, this statement makes no sense at all."

Somerby is right. By what measure is this statement true? And if it's true by some measure - Somerby was only able to find a 17-point gap in one particular, not necessarily worthy, set of test scores - how is it explained? Somerby takes a crack.

"Why are Mississippi's deserving kids scoring lower than Wyoming's? Because we aren't the world's dumbest people, we'll refer you to a measure on which these two groups of kids don't 'get the same grade.' Duh. In the educational world, what follows is the standard measure for poverty:

Percentage of public school students eligible for free/reduced lunch:
Wyoming: 29.7 percent
Mississippi: 67.5 percent

Racial composition of public school populations:

Wyoming: 84.5 percent white/1.5 percent black

Mississippi: 46.5 percent white/50.8 percent black

"Given what we know of American history - the history which extends right up to this day - could those data help explain the gap between those states' reading scores? Or must the gap be 'explained' by the measure your bloodless elites have picked out?

"Might we spend a few brief moments lingering here, out in the real world? In one of these states, forced illiteracy was official state policy, for several centuries, for what is now its largest student racial group . . .

"By the way: There's also a substantial difference in per pupil spending. In the 2005-2006 school year, Wyoming spent $11,392 per pupil - almost sixty percent more than Mississippi's $7166 . . .

"Does anyone think that this reading-score gap would flip if these two states swapped 'standards?' Does anyone think the difference in these states' reading scores is really determined by those 'standards?'"

Now, Obama is a politician and he can say whatever he wants for whatever purposes. But it's the media's job to vet what pols say. What really gets Somerby's ire - and rightly so - is the lack of critical thinking that went into reports of the president's speech.

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (3/12/09): Mr. Obama spoke in terms that everyone could understand when he noted that only a third of 13- and 14-year-olds read as well as they should and that this country's curriculum for eighth graders is two full years behind other top-performing nations. Part of the problem, he said, is that this nation's schools have recently been engaged in "a race to the bottom" - most states have adopted abysmally low standards and weak tests so that students who are performing poorly in objective terms can look like high achievers come test time.

The nation has a patchwork of standards that vary widely from state to state and a system under which he said "fourth-grade readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming - and they're getting the same grade." In addition, Mr. Obama said, several states have standards so low that students could end up on par with the bottom 40 percent of students around the globe.

"Good God," Somerby writes. "The Times goes out of its way to quote Obama's claim about Mississippi. (They're scoring nearly seventy points lower!) But then, that last statement is incoherent too. In some states, 'students could end up on par with the bottom 40 percent of students around the globe?' To state the obvious, some students will score quite low in every one of the fifty states; that is the nature of large populations. In this incoherent paraphrased statement, Obama says that 'students' (we aren't told how many) could end up 'on par with the bottom 40 percent of students around the globe.' Does that mean that this unstated number of students will match the average score of that forty percent? Does it mean that they will score below the world's fortieth percentile? This paraphrased statement is doubly incoherent."

Now let's move on. The lead story in today's Tribune is splayed across the top of its front page: "Big State Income Tax Hike? Sources: Quinn considers 50% increase to deal with budget gap."

A 50 percent increase!

On the other hand, the story states that the increase being discussed would increase the tax rate from 3 percent to 4.5 percent. Hey, that doesn't sound so bad!

And yet, it's the same thing. But you see, percentage increases always sound bigger when you are dealing with small numbers. If that state tax rate was 1 percent and it was going to increase to 2 percent, that'd be a 100 percent increase! Crime rate doubles! Four burglaries in Mayberry instead of two.

So you can see that up and down the spectrum, our nation's newspapers quite simply don't do a very good job.. And they are thousands of times better than our broadcast outlets.

What gives?

Oldstream journalists like to complain that the digerati doesn't understand journalism nor appreciate how hard reporting really is. In some cases that is true, but I've found that people in newsrooms don't understand journalism or what real reporting is. A veteran journalist in town once looked around the Trib newsroom and said to me, "A lot of people think they have 10 years of experience, but what they really have is 10 years of one year of experience."

The last thing I want to do is inflame another war with Eric Zorn, but he shows a basic misunderstanding of how to report on people in power - and especially in elected office - when he writes that "When I suggest that Rhodes show us how it's done, I mean, for example, that instead of carping about how City Hall reporters don't ask the right questions of Mayor Daley at news conferences and are letting him off the hook, he should come on down to one of his very frequent press availabilities and show the rest of those poor slobs the way to cut through the bull and force the mayor to admit everything."

This reminds me of a reporter at my college paper who couldn't understand why, as the managing editor, I wouldn't allow his interview with the college president go forward because he had sent his questions in writing ahead of time. "C'mon," he said, "it's not like you're going to trap him."

Really? I mean, "trapping" someone isn't really the goal, but experienced reporters have files full of stories in which interviews were quite revealing. Our job is to ask questions. And yes, it takes savvy and experience and forethought to ask the right questions the right way at the right time. It's called "interviewing." There are books about it.

Now, as far as the mayor's press conferences go (and apparently my body of work - as well as that of thousands of journalists far better than I - doesn't satisfy Zorn that I'm not just issuing "airy proclamations"), I'm not sure I would send a reporter to them in the first place if I was running a paper.

Is that really the best way to cover the mayor? Why let him determine the agenda and environment under which he can avoid accountability? Those press conferences are a tool the mayor uses to get out his message without having to face reporters individually. I'd be more satisfied having my every interview request (or that of any reporter working for me) denied and saying so with every story published.

(This is also why Barack Obama accepted invitations to appear before the newspaper editorial boards here to answer questions about Tony Rezko, in rooms packed with onlookers, instead of facing, say, David Jackson and/or Tim Novak alone in a quiet room. Who lets their subject off the hook by granting a group interview/hug?)

The point isn't to force Daley to admit his crimes - though Daley is certainly the kind of person most susceptible to doing just that. He wants to say he did it! He's dying to say he did it! The point is to ask him real questions in a real conversation - and not just to capture some offhand sentiment so you can write a story like Fran Spielman so often does proclaiming that "Mayor Daley said Thursday that he is 'very concerned' about such-and-such" or that "the mayor is 'not happy' about this-or-that or that "he said he will 'review' the situation."

Now it's true that Spielman is an aggressive questioner at Daley's press conferences. But to what end?

Yesterday Spielman tried to get in a question about the ongoing Al Sanchez trial when the mayor preferred to talk about the stimulus money coming our way. He stiffed her.

"At least she tried," Rich Samuels said on Chicago Tonight, where I saw the videotape.

Yes, but is that really the best way to do it? (Especially when the mayor knows he can find another questioner to tack in a different direction, or just shut down the press conference and go home.) The mayor, like others in power, spends oodles of dollars and his staff boatloads of time strategizing about how to deal with the media. How much time does the media spend strategizing about how to deal with the mayor?

Press conferences are not your friends.

And then it's how you write the stories. I didn't see a story today that led with "Mayor Daley once again refused to address testimony in a federal trial that City Hall hiring was rigged for his political benefit . . . " with a description of said refusal. Why not? One could have added that "the mayor's refusal to comment on yet another federal corruption trial that could send high-level aides to prison for work they did on his behalf comes just a day after Daley falsely claimed he could not answer questions because of trial rules. There is no such constraint on him."

Asking questions, of course, is an art. If you saw Jon Stewart's interview of Jim Cramer last night, you saw a supreme act of journalism. It required research and forethought - it wouldn't have been nearly as devastating without the video that Stewart used to call out Cramer on his weasely claims.

Jon Stewart is a comedian, but has anyone conducted a journalistic interview better than that in the last year?

Chicago has the third most Twitter users on the planet. Income taxes are going up by 50 percent. Fourth-graders in Mississippi are scoring 70 points lower than those in Wyoming. We are at the mercy of Mayor Daley's "bull." And a comedian is this generation's Walter Cronkite.

*

In the Tribune today I see this: "Chicago Olympic boosters are scrambling to increase taxpayer support to shore up a fundamental weakness in their bid just weeks before international officials arrive to evaluate the strength of the city's pitch."

We all know that taxpayer money has already been spent on the Olympic bid, a lot more will be spent if we get the bid, and that the city and state guarantees put the taxpayers at greater risk than has adequately been reported. Do we have to be clever enough to get Pat Ryan to admit it, or can we play on our own field and let him into the game only on our terms?

*

Jon Stewart was incredulous that Jim Cramer was surprised his "friends," the CEOs of the nation's most prestigious financial institutions, lied to him. First, you cannot be friends with these people - and that goes for elected officials and political strategists too - because you will be surprised when they lie to you. Second, as Stewart noted, the fundamental function of what we do is to independently verify what people (and particularly people in power) tell us. It's not to trust them. If TwitterGrade says it, check it out. If the president says it, check it out. You are not obliged to be the conduit for the mayor or anyone else.

Editors used to ream reporters who were afraid to ask tough questions. I remember like it was yesterday the time when the managing editor of the paper I worked for in Florida stormed into the newsroom one day upset because my partner on the police beat hadn't gotten an answer from the police chief about the value of a take-home police car program he was proposing. "Why can't we ask a question around here!" he bellowed. Asked and answered by the end of the day.

And I can fondly say that when I was the managing editor of the Minnesota Daily lo these many years ago, I stole a line from a source I don't recall and included it in my one and only memo to the staff: "When conducting an interview, always be asking yourself in the back of your mind, Why is this bastard lying to me?"

It's not about playing gotcha. That's not my thing. It's about thinking what your goal is every day, and having a strategy in your reporting. And it's about perspective. If TwitterGrade says your city has the third most users in the world, your reaction as a journalist in Chicago ought to be, "That can't be right. And if it is, who cares? Now, what are we going to do with the mayor today . . . "

In Today's Beachwood
* Liar's Poker. Calling all Bush officials.
* Fibers and Wax. In TrackNotes.
* Jockeys gets sudsy. In What I Watched Last Night.
* The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week. And the people who had them.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: On the rail.

Posted by Lou at 8:08 AM | Permalink

What I Watched Last Night: Jockeys Gets Sudsy

It's been said that all of television is a soap opera. You might even be able to say that for sitcoms, as in "What are our wacky friends up to now?"

Jockeys has gotten awfully sudsy. And your silks will stay Downy fresh as it's been announced that the show has been renewed for a second season. This is good for racing with its potential to draw new fans to the game, but I guess I'll have to wait and see what new angles they can come up with because I don't see any. Does that mean reality (shows) escapes me?

This week's two half-hour episodes went directly to "As the World Turns, Can It Get 10 Furlongs?" It's the brink of a breakup as Hall of Famer Mike Smith and his girl Chantal Sutherland confront the many issues of their relationship.

It starts with a gratuitous ode to Chantal and woman jockeys in general. Jimmy the Hat waxes poetic: "(Julie Krone) was one of the best riders I've ever seen. I never thought in my life I'd see another woman rider who could ride heads up with the guys. (Chantal's) the real deal - she can really ride." Hey Jimmy, never is a long, long time. And we've got another potential great here in Chicago in apprentice Inez Karlsson.

Chantal flies up for a victory and Jimmy wins "$260 five times. SCORE!" OK, Jimmy had a hunch on the 30-1 horse Chantal was riding. Good for him.

The weepies start at Gary Stevens' house, at the fire pit again, when we learn that Mrs. Stevens, Angie, is expecting. Went to the hospital with an asthma condition and came out pregnant. I hope Gary has a sense of humor because Angie got off a great sarcastic line at the Hall of Famer's expense.

Gary: "You're glowing!"
Angie: "Yeah, I've got my face in a hot roaring fire!"

I don't recall hearing too many laughs.

Chantal and Angie go off to the side as Chantal confides that she would really like to start a family too.

In a straight-on interview sitdown, Chantal says "I made a deal with Mike. I'd ride one more year and then we'd try to think about having a family. But I started doing really well - I broke that deal." Cut to Mike: "Chantal doesn't know what she wants to do." Here, the soulful chick singer with the plaintive piano kicks in with lyrics I still can't make out. On the music fade, Chantal adds that she literally dreams of having a baby. But what if she falls in a race? She would have a child to think about, not just herself, and bumming around racetracks is no way to raise a kid.

It gets worse. Over dinner they discuss these intimate issues with a couple from Canada, Chantal's friends. That's one thing, but with the cameras rolling too? Chantal divulges that she is going to stay in California, although later in the show when her agent from Canada calls telling her she has to fish or cut bait and let the Canadian trainers know if she's going to come back (where she makes more money), it seems much more up in the air.

Chantal is nearly angry. "It's so unfair that men don't have babies too!"

Then the girlfriend asks "So when are you guys gettin' married?" As Paulie Walnuts would say, "OHHHHHHHHH!" With better editing, we might know if Mike really was choking or just feigning it. Mike thinks out loud about some very personal things and then slays with "It doesn't mean we won't get married, but it won't be anytime soon." Chantal is devastated in front of her friends and the damn camera. I hope she's getting paid a lot for this show and I have to really give it to her, she is one tough cookie. She wanted to break down right there but instead, not one of the tears in her eyes dared run down her cheeks. Even later, as they share some wine in the alley by the garage - hey, it's Southern California; it still looked good in the windchill 5 here - it's the "what if" conversation. Mike does it again. What if Chantal goes back to Canada? After telling her how happy he is with his career, it's "Oh, I'd be fine, man," Smith says. It looks like Chantal's life is flashing before her eyes and it might not include Smith. I hope I don't know what this world is coming to, but I cannot think of one good reason they should be discussing such personal matters in front of the camera.

By the way, Ms. Sutherland is riding in the current Santa Anita meet and winning at a 14 percent clip. Very respectable and better than Joe Talamo.

In between we get nice coverage of The Legends of Racing, a very curious event where nine recent and not-so-recent retirees are going to don the silks once more in a real race, with wagering. The first blather out of the narrator is that these guys are putting their lives on the line to ride in this race. And we're reminded for the 87th time that an average of two jockeys annually are killed on the race track. Of course, the show never goes into any detail about how these guys got into shape enough to ride a race. After all, as Jerry Bailey warns in the jock's meeting, the horses don't know how old they are. "In (softball) legends, you see a 40-mile-an-hour cream puff fastball. Here, these horses are a 90-mile-an-hour fastball." Jimmy the Hat doesn't want to see any of 'em hurt either.

Also riding are Angel Cordero, Jr., Pat Day, who made many of his bones at Arlington, Sandy Hawley, Julie Krone, Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Gary Stevens and Jacinto Vasquez. "Representing $975 million in purses won and over 53,000 career wins, this is the dream team of racing," the narrator bellows. And I always thought dream teamers had to be active and at the top of their game.

It wasn't much of a race as Hawley's horse got out to the lead and was never really headed. Bailey second and Stevens third.

The best scene of the entire series comes next, and it didn't include any of our jockeys or their sordid stories.

CURLIN is in the house!! The reigning Horse of the Year - he won the honor again for 2008 - has arrived for the Breeders Cup Classic and he is looking as good as a horse can look. He knows what's going on around him and accounts for every body, human or equine, in his field of vision. The camera guys get it surprisingly right as we see the unmistakable red coat and the protective bright white sheepskin chest tack round the turn into the straight. There are no distractions as this Fred Astaire of horses makes no missteps, no wasted strides, and his run looks hypnotically easy and yet supremely powerful, straighter than an arrow, and knowing not to run too fast to save it for the big race. He won't pound his chest or pump his fist, but you probably won't catch him either and he'll let you have the track back when he's finished. That's what he lives for.

Our last bit of soap has the strung-out drama of Jon Court sweating out a berth in the Breeders Cup, which we already know he got on Orthodox. Joe Talamo buys his fourth (fourth: the fourth he has ever owned or his John McCain fourth? Dunno.) house. Then he finishes well back as the field engulfs him in the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint. Our cliffhanger until next week is Court's finish on Orthodox.

Friday's is the season finale. I'm setting my TiVo for the second season right now.

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Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He's been following Jockeys this season both in this space and in his TrackNotes column. Previously:

* Sex, death threats and Jimmy the Hat.

* The bywords are dejection and overdubbing.

* The brat of the pack.

* The Kid at Harlem Ave.

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See what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.


Posted by Lou at 4:16 AM | Permalink

TrackNotes: Fibers and Wax

This is a perfect opportunity to comment on artificial surfaces in horse racing.

In Saturday's Gotham Stakes on the inner track at Aqueduct, trainer Jeff Mullins shipped maiden winner I Want Revenge all the way from Santa Anita basically to find out if the horse likes to run on dirt, the surface of the Kentucky Derby. The horse had finished a nose second in December's Cash Call Futurity at Hollywood and then third in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita early last month. Those two tracks have different artificial surfaces. More on Santa Anita later.

Well, I Want Revenge looks on his way to the final plateau on the $99,000 Answer as he won by 8-1/2 lengths (Kid Joe Talamo, in my opinion, went to the whip a little too often and a little too late, knowing he had the win, to push this horse. This could be a mistake that manifests itself on Derby Day.). Imperial Council came from last place to finish second and just nose out Mr. Fantasy.

Mullins got his answer. But horses like The Pampelmousse and Pioneer of the Nile will most likely go to the Derby without ever having raced on dirt. Others will have their final prep on the fake stuff at Keeneland. In 2006, Sinister Minister annihilated the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland and was near the top of the tote board for the Derby. He finished 16th.

The opinion here is that the use of artificial racing surfaces in this country has been a knee-jerk reaction typical of our quick-fix mentality.

Turfway Park was the first when it installed Polytrack in 2005. It was as much to ensure racing in the crummy weather of Kentucky in winter as it was for horse safety. Same at Woodbine in Toronto in 2006. But, lo and behold, the track had very few breakdowns - maybe one or two - in its first meet. Keeneland installed the stuff for it's fall meet in 2006, but get this: Keeneland itself is the North American marketer of the stuff! So one of the finest little racetracks in this country was just about taken out of racing context for marketing purposes.

Then, in 2006, breakdowns started happening at both Del Mar and here at Arlington Park. Too many, to be sure, but no more than in many previous years. I'm sure you saw the local news idols out at Arlington saying, basically, "horses are dying and these people are cruel." I agree, something had to be done. Of course, you'll never get an explanation from these tracks, but the blogs and the rumors at Arlington were that the banking on the turn into the stretch was screwed up or that there was a wide dip at the spot. You know what it's like to step into and out of a two-inch hole you didn't know was there.

So in all of its corporate PR paranoia, Churchill Downs Inc. installed the plastic stuff at Arlington for the 2007 season. It consists of a mixture of sand, synthetic fibers and recycled rubber coated with wax. Some iterations include tiny fragments of ground up telephone wire. Polytrack itself released figures of 29 breakdowns in either morning workouts or races in the season before Polytrack, and 22 in the first season of Polytrack at Arlington. In the "deadly" summer of 2006, breakdowns tailed off after what you remember as the media rush to the story. Could it be because Arlington was taking measures to fix that dip? Track management did go dark a few days to tear up and rebuild that section of the turn, but said it couldn't really find anything wrong.

At about this time, the California Horse Racing Board - unilaterally and without research or scientific data - mandated that all California tracks have the stuff installed by the end of 2007.

Del Mar also installed it in 2007. Relatively speaking, the weather at Arlington is pretty consistent when it comes to morning versus afternoon. Not so at Del Mar. (Del Mar had to change its recipe at the outset when it was found that the copper in the telephone wires would probably leech into the ocean, Del Mar being "Where the Surf Meets the Turf.") It then found that while workouts in the morning were normal - with the cool morning temps - the afternoon races were almost comical. Horses were taking a day or two to run nine furlongs. And while breakdowns were down, trainers began complaining of deep tissue and muscle injuries - trading one set of injuries for another.

Hollywood Park followed with Cushion Track. Santa Anita went with Cushion Track, but what was probably a combination of screwed up installation and the propensity for rain to come down in buckets in that locale, the track would not drain properly. Santa Anita lost a large portion of 2008's spring meet because the track's sophisticated drainage system was clogged and not draining. With the 2008 Breeders Cup looming, officials scrambled and called the Australians, who installed Pro-Ride, or some combination of the two materials. Tapeta Footings is installed at Golden Gate Fields and Presque Isle Downs.

My points are these:

* It's difficult enough to handicap races without the substantial guesswork of considering synthetic surfaces. The axiom racing would like you to believe is that synthetic racing is very comparable to turf racing, and the 2008 Breeders Cup results bore some of that out. Old-timers will growl that a horse doesn't know anyway and it can run on anything, but that's not entirely true. While Einstein in fact proved he can run on anything by winning the Santa Anita Handicap Saturday, the entire angle on Court Vision was his return to synthetic. He finished seventh. Who's to say a horse doesn't get confused? The great Curlin himself was compromised by the fake stuff in last year's Breeders Cup Classic; it was known he didn't take to turf and he went into the Classic guessing. It will be years before there is enough data to make surface conclusions, much as we already have turf-breeding and wet track tendencies recorded. The only hope is that the artificial stuff gets replaced, as some feel it might.

* Why didn't Churchill Downs Inc. spend the $10 million to $14 million on building and maintaining the very best dirt course it can at Arlington, one of America's finest racing venues? Is AP a guinea pig? How does this bode for Churchill Downs itself? Will the Kentucky Derby be run on fibers and wax in the future? Racing fans are very concerned. And what about Saratoga or Belmont? Why just give up on dirt?

So on April 30, on the eve of Kentucky Derby Friday, get out your dartboard and start throwing. By the way, it also looks like Stardom Bound, one of the finest fillies in the land, will also come into Louisville without any dirt experience.

On the Triple Crown Trail
* The big news last week was I Want Revenge and his dazzling triumph in the Gotham Stakes by 8.5 lengths. He answered the questions about dirt. He'll be back in New York in the Wood Memorial.

* Stardom Bound, the filly whose connections admitted they needed to see a big win to consider her for the Derby, did not get it in the Santa Anita Oaks. Jockey Mike Smith admitted jockey error in giving the horse too much to do. Nevertheless she turned in a valiant effort and showed her class by running wide and just getting up for a narrow victory. Unless IEAH Stables gets a bad case of Derby fever, she'll run May 1 in the Kentucky Oaks.

* There are so many impactful 3-year-old races this weekend, all I can do is count them down and list the horses to watch, pretty much in the order of their regard.

1. Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds. This race is loa-ded. Friesan Fire hopes to continue his rise while Flying Pegasus looks to win his first stakes at 3. Can Illinois' own Giant Oak forget his terrible trip in the Risen Star and put that mulligan to good use? Patena is on the minds of many, but he hasn't raced in over two months. He's in Rick Dutrow's barn now, so the bar is high. Uno Mas beat Friesan Fire last December, but on the Derby trail, that was a long time ago, and Friesan's beaten him twice since then. Both Uno Mas and Free Country need to take the proverbial next step or it'll be no mas for them. And, can Papa Clem translate his California form at Fairgrounds. Once again, it's the synthetic-to-dirt angle that I Want Revenge faced last week. Watch for rain.

2. Rebel Stakes, Oaklawn Park. Old Fashioned looks to maintain his status as the leading Derby contender while Silver City looks to avenge his Southwest Stakes loss and beat Old Fashioned. Wise Kid is a wiseguy horse, but look out for Hamazing Destiny, coming off a big maiden win and running for the first time for D. Wayne Lukas.

3. Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs. Is General Quarters for real after his Sam Davis upset? Tampa Derby favorite Hello Broadway and Davis runner-up Sumo also want to know. Look out for Sumo, he closed nicely for second in the Sam Davis. Also keep an eye on Alan Garcia on Nowhere to Hide (this horse was also entered in the Louisiana Derby on Saturday, so this means he is very well intentioned here), and I always consider a Holy Bull offspring - this time it's Perfect Bull.

4. San Felipe, Santa Anita. Pioneer of the Nile ostensibly has no challengers in this race. If that's true, does this race do him much good besides conditioning? Bob Baffert insists his next race is the big showdown before the Derby. OK. There's also a question as to how many horses will show up for this race.

In other top races:

* They call her special. The same kind of special as Stardom Bound? Rachel Alexandra leads the field in the Fairgrounds Oaks at Fair Grounds Saturday. Four Gifts might challenge.

* Ameribelle and Rock Candy lead the field in the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay.

* Feature at Hawthorne Saturday is the $50,000 Hula Chief Stakes with old stalwarts Dakota Rebel, Lissa's Star, Officer Rocket, Shadowbdancing and High Expectations. Pick one.

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Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes every Friday. You can reach him here.

Posted by Lou at 3:59 AM | Permalink

The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week

1. Yesterday we learned that the naming rights to the once-tallest building in the world have been acquired by George and Weezie Jefferson's next door neighbors.

2. Bernie Madoff wants you to know that he is terribly sorry he embezzled $173 billion - an amount exceeding the GDP of 139 countries - and that he won't do anything dishonest again. Unless, of course, the opportunity presents itself.

3. Hey, how about if we dismember some Barbie dolls and make them into jewelry?
Oh wait, it's been done.

4. Why I don't Twitter and you shouldn't either: Get a load of the tweets emitted yesterday by Bonnie Fuller, editor emeritus of Us Weekly, Glamour, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and the Star. I mean, with a track record like that you'd think her every thought was worth publishing.

5. Finally, we've got some good news and some bad news for you, Muntazer al-Zaidi. The bad news is that you're going to the slammer for three years for pitching your shoe at former President Bush. The good news? The Iraqi town of Tikrit has erected a monument to you - and boy, is it ever cute!

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Look for Stephanie Goldberg's Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week in this space on Fridays.

Posted by Lou at 3:41 AM | Permalink

Liar's Poker

COMPANY OFFERS FREE CAREER TRAINING TO FORMER BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS

The Wall Street Journal reports 70% unemployment rate for more than 3,000 former Bush officials

Also issues $1 million challenge to Obama

WASHINGTON, D.C. - According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 70 percent of former Bush officials are out of work, and an online poker training school is offering them free poker lessons from non-partisan 20-year olds earning seven figures a year. To qualify, simply fax in a letter describing your former position in the Bush Administration, along with phone and e-mail contact information, to (623) 889-5670 to process a 30-day subscription to www.BluefirePoker.com.

Sure, these guys helped to dismantle the American economy - and gambled away our futures - now they may want to consider gambling for a living (legally of course).

Not every aspiring poker player will earn millions of dollars a year playing a game they love. But many are able to beat the Average Joe's salary without leaving their homes and, in this recession, that's not too shabby. With an unemployment rate close to 8 percent nationally, and ten times that rate for former Bush appointees, it's no wonder people are looking for something else - something they enjoy, something outside the mainstream.

What? No resumes and no formal dress required. What? Six to seven figures annually. Too good to be true?

Why Poker Training School?
There are an established group of young poker pros who can show you how it's done - dodge the 9-5 nightmare, live an envious lifestyle, make tons of cash and do their jobs with real passion.

It's hard work. No free lunches. But BluefirePoker.com has assembled the absolute hottest, most profitable poker players on the planet to produce play-by-play videos with real money and real hands. Every situation in poker is unique. Even given the same cards against the same opponent, something will be different.

These play-by-play video tutorials are available at BluefirePoker.com for a monthly subscription fee. For complete bios, background and pricing options, check out www.bluefirepoker.com and please visit www.bluefirepoker.com/aboutus.aspx to learn about the BluefirePoker.com in-house faculty.

Up-Close & Personal With Legendary Wunderkind Phil Galfond
Twenty-something Phil Galfond is widely considered to be one of the greatest cash game poker players in the world, and he is legendary online. All of our pros are top players at their stakes, and are hand selected by Galfond who will be making 4-6 videos a month himself.

BLUEFIREPOKER.COM CHALLENGES OBAMA TO $1 MILLION POKER GAME

To prove that poker is a game of kill; offer also extended to any member of U.S. Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. - With Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, preparing to introduce legislation this month addressing the ambiguities of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), BluefirePoker.com (a non-wagering poker training site via online videos) is willing to put its money where it's mouth is - to prove that poker is a game of skill, not luck.

The folks at www.BluefirePoker.com are offering $1 million to President Obama or any member of the U.S. Congress willing to play a Poker game against any of their poker pros, and the winnings can go to the charity of choice. BluefirePoker.com will put up $1 million against $1 for a chance to play with either President Obama or any member of the U.S. Congress. The legislative debate centers on whether poker is a game of chance or skill, and this debate determines the legality of online gambling, according to legal and legislative experts on the subject. No one in their right mind would turn down this challenge if poker were a game based on luck, because the odds are so far in their favor - putting up $1 for a chance to win $1 million for the charity of their choice.

Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania Judge, Thomas James, Jr. ruled that poker is a game of skill in a court hearing, quoting Mike Caro's Secrets of Winning Poker, saying "the money flows from the bad players to the good players."

The specific terms of the game are to be announced but the format will include an equal number of chips at the start of the game. The length of the game must also be long enough to demonstrate the advantage of skill because poker prowess and experience demonstrate themselves over time - in the long-run, the better player wins the game because the player's skills increase the odds of success.

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BLUEFIREPOKER.COM IS STRICTLY A TRAINING ACADEMY AND THE WEBSITE NEITHER ENDORSES ANY GAMBLING VENUE NOR ACCEPTS WAGERS OF ANY KIND.

Posted by Lou at 12:23 AM | Permalink

March 12, 2009

The [Thursday] Papers

I've been with Speakeasy for a long time, and for a long time I was really happy with their service, but after the company - bought by Best Buy in 2007 - experienced "connectivity issues in Chicago" once again this morning, I'm starting to wonder.

1. Denise Alcantar has a tummy ache. Find out why you should care.

2. "President Barack Obama railed against pork-barrel projects Wednesday," the Tribune reports. "Then he signed a massive spending bill stuffed with them."

I've never seen a politician whose rhetoric was so at odds with his reality. Over and over and over.

3. "But Obama, who as a senator had requested earmarks to benefit his home state of Illinois, on Wednesday defended some earmarks as worthwhile and accused Republicans of playing politics on the issue."

4. Let's be clear: there are plenty of worthy projects funded through earmarks. The problem is that these indeed are "pet projects" of legislators who don't have to secure funding through the usual appropriations process; therefore, the national interest and prioritization of these projects has not been evaluated. Earmarks are basically slush projects, worthy or not. (Not only that, but the stimulus bill didn't need earmarks because it was fundamentally a collection of earmarks.)

And don't give me this bull about what a small percentage of the spending bill is made up of earmarks; that's what Republicans said when they fended off Democratic attacks in 2006. Both sides have just exchanged hymn books. Earmarks still add up to hundreds of millions of dollars. Any part of such a massive bill is but a small slice. That's our money, and frankly, I'm not so sure at this particular time that we ought to be subsidizing the Adler or walking trails throughout the state or whatever projects are important to friends of Dick Durbin and Rahm Emanuel. I'd rather they just earmark that money right back to me - or better yet, use it to pay for a special election for Roland Burris's senate seat so we can put a stake in that lame objection to pursuing electoral justice. It's funny what we can and cannot afford, when convenient.

5. JUST IN: Sears Tower renamed Willis Tower. Lame.

6. The Sun-Times reports that "Chicago is No. 3 among cities worldwide in the number of people who use Twitter, according to TwitterGrader.com."

Um, not really.

The paper's chart lists the top five Twittering cities as London, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco.

Does it make any sort of sense that Chicago would have more Twitter users than New York?

I didn't think so, so I checked the ratings.

The first clue that something is wrong is the website's note atop its rankings that "This only works for users whose locations we could actually parse."

The second clue was that while "New York" ranks fourth as reported, Brooklyn ranks 19th.

If your paper says Chicago loves Twitter, check it out.

7. Roeper on U2:

"The quartet has a new album out, and they're launching a worldwide tour that starts in Barcelona in June and reaches the States in the fall, kicking off at Soldier Field in September.

"So the boys from Dublin are plugging and selling, whether it's the radio interview at Metro or the unprecedented five-day run with David Letterman last week.

"Some rock fans look at this as taking care of business. Like virtually every other musical act in modern history, U2 wants to sell as many records and as many concert tickets as humanly possible, and to do so, they will partner up with corporations and participate in gimmicky promotions."

There is a long list of musicians who don't want to sell as many tickets as humanly possible and who refuse to partner up with corporations and participate in gimmicky promotions, from Neil Young to Fugazi.

"Others say U2 have sold out. Why, they've mortgaged their souls, forgotten their roots, compromised their values and abandoned their rebellious spirit!

"I don't know. Bono and company have been making music for more than 30 years, selling nearly 150 million albums and raking in untold millions of dollars. Just as Springsteen isn't exactly living the 'Rosalita' and 'Born to Run' lifestyle any more, U2 is a lifetime away from winning 500 pounds in a talent show in Limerick in the late 1970s. Are they supposed to pretend otherwise? Stop making music? Play only tiny venues for $10 a pop to prove they're still cool and in touch?"

It's exactly because U2 is fabulously wealthy and has sold hundreds of millions of albums that they don't have to behave this way. They have artistic freedom.

And unlike Springsteen, who by the way still plays "Rosalita" and "Born to Run," U2's songbook largely isn't about living in rags and dreaming of success; universal songs about social justice, the ravages of materialism, and, yes, heartache and heartbreak, are timeless. Should they be singing about what it's like to be rich instead?

And even once Springsteen did become successful, he had no problem creating masterpieces about those who weren't, be it Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad. In fact, only a diminishing part of Springsteen's catalogue is about his early, hungry days.

It would be nice if U2 - and Springsteen lately - were a little cooler about their insatiable need for mass validation and huge record sales. Ironically, it would make their new music better and, who knows, maybe that would make them even more popular.

8. I think the comments to this story say it all.

(Careful, commenters, you will be graded on Attitude.)

9. Michael Miner says it (quite well) so I don't have to.

10. Brown's Chicken Tastes Better, 1981

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Tastes like pork.

Posted by Lou at 10:12 AM | Permalink

March 11, 2009

The [Wednesday] Papers

Geez, who would have ever thought Bishop Desmond Tutu was such a putz?

At an event on Tuesday at which the City Hall press corps apparently peppered the mayor with questions about his travels aboard the private jet of a non-profit company under federal investigation, Tutu was apparently offended that reporters strayed off-message.

"I just want to say I can't believe this," Tutu said, according to the Sun-Times's Fran Spielman, who described the bishop as "incredulous."

"But in Chicago," Mayor Daley chimed in, "the press has to find always negative things. That's how it is."

I know! Good thing the press in Johannesburg never focused on the negative.

Now, bear in mind that "Daley fended off questions Tuesday about the multiple trips he now admits he took aboard a $31 million jet owned by a nonprofit company under investigation by the IRS and Congress."

I'm not sure yet if there's anything wrong with the mayor taking those trips, but I'm getting there. When the mayor said "I don't remember all of 'em," well, I took notice because spokesperson Jackie Heard insisted last week that Daley only took one flight on the jet in question. Now he took so many trips on the jet he can't remember all of 'em.

The jet is owned by the nonprofit EduCap, a "student loan charity" which allegedly charges absurdly high interest rates and bestows luscious perks on its CEO.

It turns out, according to Heard, that Maggie Daley "used the EduCap jet as a paid employee" of the nonprofit's Academy of Achievement.

Okay, the story just got more interesting.

And for an additional twist, Spielman notes that Tutu is a member of that very same academy.

According to the Tribune, Maggie Daley was employed "as a consultant in recent years to set up conferences."

And I'm sure she's a very good conference setter-upper.

I think you can agree, Bishop,

"CBS News reported that the Daleys had taken 58 flights" on the jet, the Trib's Dan Mihalopoulos notes. "Last week, Daley spokeswoman Jacquelyn Heard said the mayor had only gone on one flight to Singapore on the private jet. "Today, during his first news conference since the story broke, Daley was asked how often he had flown on the jet.

"Once or twice, we pointed that out. Yes, you've got all the facts on that," the mayor replied.

Yes, we've got all the facts. Can you just give us all the facts again, though? We must have misplaced them.

Then Tutu told the media "I will absolve you and make you holy."

Which is an interesting idea because if the media gets all holy-like, news shops could re-organize as churches and stop paying taxes, though Sam Zell has found another way to achieve that end.

But first we've got to duck into the Al Sanchez trial. If Tutu did the same, he might find that the man who needed absolution was the one standing next to him lying through his teeth.

Taking Out The Trash
"Authorities say Sanchez and other HDO leaders rigged city hiring in favor of campaign workers who helped Daley and the mayor's endorsed candidates in elections for more than a decade," the Tribune reports.

"Raymond Gamboa, a deputy commissioner in the city's General Services Department and a former HDO operative, testified Monday that top Daley political strategist Timothy Degnan promised city jobs in exchange for political support in Daley's first successful run for mayor in 1989.

"In his first news conference since the trial began last week, Daley cut off a question Tuesday about that testimony, saying, 'I don't know.'

"He also was asked about testimony that a former city truck driver got her job due to political connections to Sanchez despite her inexperience. The Tribune reported in 2006 that the driver, Denise Alcantar, crushed another city worker against a pole.

"'Let the trial go on,' the mayor said. 'You can't comment on [a] pending trial'."

Of course you can. (And, of course, the trial is no longer "pending" but actually, you know, happening.)

You can comment to your heart's delight. But whatever you said wouldn't likely be true anyway, so whatever.

Got Wood
These things rule. I saw them up close myself just a few days ago and I'm a big fan. In the plaza just to the south of Trib Tower.

(And yes, I know their origin though I just referred to them as "these things." So stop typing that e-mail right now.)

Dissing Dolinsky
When is a food reporter neither a reviewer nor a blogger but actually both?

Gen Y Me
"Morgan Oliver played by what she thought was the rules. The 23-year-old got good grades and earned her college degree," All Things Considered reports.

"It hasn't yet paid off. Although she graduated last May with an expensive degree from Columbia College in Chicago, Oliver can't find work. She had a 3.82 GPA; a degree in art, entertainment and media management; and high, high hopes for what was next in life."

I can spot at least five things she did wrong. Can you?

COMMENT 3:07 P.M.: A Beachwood reader writes:

"I heard that story yesterday in the car . . . I think the sixth thing wrong with it: NPR thought this was a story in the first place."

Rating Shortstops
Where do Ryan Theriot and Alexei Ramirez fit in?

Weep Not For The Newspaper Industry
Now's not the time for your tears.

Highly Logical
I saw the Star Trek episode a few days ago where Kirk, Spock and McCoy find themselves back in 1930s America - at a soup kitchen.

While eating their "free" soup, a hobo says to Kirk, "Now you have to pay for your soup."

Kirk is confused until he realizes that the price for his "free" soup is that he has to listen to an ad. An ad for God and personal responsibility and such, but an ad nonetheless.

COMMENT 2:54 P.M.: A Beachwood reader writes:

"Teleplay originally by SF great Harlan Ellison, though he complained bitterly that Gene Roddenberry messed it up in rewrites . . . "

*

Wikipedia: "The City On The Edge of Forever."

Hope
* "Web publishers such as NYTimes.com, ESPN.com and CNN.com think they know what will attract more brand advertising online," Ad Age reports. "Hint: Try ads that look more like the ones Apple has been running on the front page of NYTimes.com and WSJ.com than, well, those 'belly-fat,' IQ and credit-score ads the networks are spraying everywhere."

* "Online display advertising sucks," writes Noah Brier, the strategic planning head for the Barbarian Group. "first off, it's hardly ever aware of the content it is hanging out with. I'm not talking contextual ads here, just saying that display advertising needs to be aware of where it lives. At least it should know what site it's on and what people are there for. I mean, we spend a lot of time thinking about our consumer, right? We know what they like and don't like and roughly where they spend their time on the web. However, we give little or no thought to what they're actually doing once they get there. What content are they looking at? What's the difference between home-page visitors and lower-level visitors?"

* But why is anyone talking about the death of online ads instead of its inevitable growth?

"Until the very end of last year we were growing dramatically in terms of our display advertising online," Denise Warren, general manager of NYTimes.com and senior vice president and chief advertising officer for the New York Times Media Group, told The Observer. "And our forecast - until the recession and its impact really became clear - was significant online advertising growth. What is difficult right now is to determine what the impact of the recession will be and how long that'll last versus were there true business prospects for Internet advertising."

And:

"'I would argue that the people who are obsessing right now with the pay model are overthinking a basic part of our business,' said Russ Stanton, editor of The Los Angeles Times.

"He pointed out that subscriptions and newsstand sales have never been able to support print journalism without serious advertising revenue. So how can any pay model be expected to cover the costs of journalism online?

"'Our industry, historically, has never charged full freight of what that costs. We cover our costs, but we don't make any money delivering it. We charge for the delivery; it doesn't come close to what it costs to produce it.'

"'I'm not a big fan of the pay model,' Mr. Stanton said. "That horse left the barn . . . We tried with what we think is our highest value content, which is our entertainment report, and we put Calendar behind a paywall several years ago for the relatively nominal price of less than 10 dollars a month, and readers rejected it."

"'It requires innovation, not simply by newspaper companies, but by media companies in general working in close collaboration with the companies that dominate the internet and who have figured out ways of monetizing content over the internet, which is to say Google and Microsoft,' he said. 'I do think there will be collaboration with the big technology companies'."

*

And:

"The paper dropped TimesSelect, which he says had some 200,000 subscribers and around $10 million in annual revenue, 'after careful analysis suggested that the ad revenues resulting from increased traffic from offering this content free through the exploding search and blogs sectors would exceed $10 million over time'."

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Exploding with hope.

Posted by Lou at 9:24 AM | Permalink

Fantasy Fix: Rating A-Rod

The admission that he used steroids earlier this decade couldn't stop A-Rod from still being rated as a top 5 pick, and neither could lingering questions about whether he has been on steroids more recently. But it now appears that a cyst is his hip will do just that and more.

Alex Rodriguez still looked like a No. 3 or No. 4 pick to me, possibly even No. 2 because the Yankees line-up looks like such a promising run-scoring machine. But A-Rod had minor surgery on his right hip just days ago, and now will likely be out for at least the first month of the regular season. He's also already scheduled to have a follow-up surgery after this season, and though the medical reports are casting his odds as pretty strong to have an otherwise healthy year, too much doubt has begun to stir.
Just the other day, I looked at the Yahoo! Player Ranker, which allows Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball members to vote on player rankings, and was not surprised to see A-Rod with an average draft position of about No. 22. Some people might be surprised it isn't lower, but it's probable A-Rod stock value has not yet hit bottom.

I can't recommend drafting him in the first round, but I would endorse picking him around the end of the second round or very early third, with further strategy to pick a 3B back-up - maybe someone like Garrett Atkins or Ryan Zimmerman - earlier than you would normally have entertained the idea. Sadly, I already had one league that drafted early in which I felt I had to pick A-Rod when he was still available at No. 5 - this was after the steroids admission, but before the hip injury. Looks like my late-round filler Edwin Encarnacion will be starting for a while.

In other news, here's my top 10 shortstops for this year:

1. Hanley Ramirez. Consensus overall No. 1 player, so no surprise here. Five-category stud.

2. Jose Reyes. Steals, triples, even a few homers. He'll score even more runs this year.

3. Jimmy Rollins. He pressed at the plate last year, but should be looser this year with his ring pocketed.

4. Stephen Drew. Just scratched the surface last year: .291, 21 HRs, 67 RBIs. Upwardly mobile at No. 4.

5. Rafael Furcal. Looked like the hitting champ last year until injury. But average, steals put him at No. 5.

6. Alexei Ramirez. Lined up for a sophomore jinx, but he just seems to do everything so smoothly.

7. Derek Jeter. Definitely debatable putting him after the previous two. Still a great hitter, but slowing.

8. Michael Young. Average fell last year, but guessing he'll bounce back and still score 100-plus runs.

9. Jhonny Peralta. Power streak elevates him. RBIs, runs pretty high, but average could be better.

10. J.J. Hardy. Similar power streak, in run-scoring line-up, Tough call over others at No. 10.

It's true that you could make a case for any number of players to be among the second five on this list: Ryan Theriot, Mike Aviles, Troy Tulowitzki. I guess I leaned a little toward power and consistent batting average.

What are the experts saying this week?

* The Yahoo! Big Board puts A-Rod at No. 37. That sounds so strange, but I understand the logic. Still, I'd put him at least a little higher. The risk is the injury turns out to be worse and he gets shut down, but there's a lot of upside if he doesn't. A lot.

* The Sporting News tries to guess which middle infielders will have break-out years. Perpetually promising Howie Kendrick is on the list - I wonder what will happen to knock him out of action this year. Jed Lowrie, a SS/3B, is an interesting choice that I'll have to remember.

* Ben Ice at Bleacher Report has his annual Big Fat Claims, his list of outrageous predictions for the fantasy baseball year. He may be alone in predicting a down year for superstar Tim Lincecum, but I guess that's what the list is all about, right?

Fantasy Basketball Round-Up
Dwayne Wade is the No. 1-ranked player in the fantasy basketball universe (by season totals). He had 1,871 points this season as of Tuesday, beating out both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, which despite Wade's proven star status is just plain shocking.

Wade has recast himself from a being a player at the beginning of this season who was sliding out of the top 10 into a certain top three pick next year. With 16 to 19 games left in the season for most teams, his line of 29.7 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 7.7 assist and 2.2 steals makes him the likely MVP.

Most of you, unfortunately, have no chance to have Wade on your team as the season comes to a close. Is there anyone out there at all on the waiver who's still available and can contribute something? How about center Marc Gasol, who in the last week is averaging 21.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. Gasol has been having a pretty good rookie season, with 11.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 1.1 BPG, and has had 15 double-doubles, but has been especially good the last 10 days or so.

From the expert wire:

* You know the season is winding down and material is getting thin when . . .

* ESPN's Eric Karabell has some advice about who to finally drop because they aren't contributing. How about Allen Iverson? Sad, but true.

* Bleacher Report recently had a post on the All-Sleeper Team. Rajon Rondo gets big votes from the peanut gallery - I wonder how many of them hail from Boston. I'd go with Nate Robinson or the unlisted Kevin Durant. Durant has penetrated the top 10 this year, but Robinson is a player who barely made the pre-season top 180, and now is ranked around 40.

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Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears every Wednesday, except when it appears on Thursday. Tips, comments, and suggestions are welcome.

Posted by Lou at 12:01 AM | Permalink

March 10, 2009

Weep Not For The Newspaper Industry

Weep not for the newspaper industry. As Bob Dylan might say, now is not the time for your tears.

Sure, the Rocky Mountain News is dead and the San Francisco Chronicle is on the ropes. I'm sorry. I am. But as Michael Miner said at a Chicago Headline Club get-together last week, newspapers have been dying my whole life.

When I was growing up, we had four dailies in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I lived through the death of two of them - the afternoon Minneapolis Star and St. Paul Dispatch. The Star was the best of the lot, the paper that inspired me.

And, of course, those of you who grew up in Chicago had even more dailies to choose from.

In fact, when I got out of college in the late 80s and began looking for a job, I found that newspapers were shutting down nearly en masse. The afternoon papers were dying, morning papers were consolidating, and hiring freezes were endemic.

Even then I might have wondered, Why are there fewer papers every year? But then, A.J. Liebling asked that in 1949.

Now is not the time to weep over our fallen comrades. Now is the time to celebrate, because we finally have something to replace those dead newspapers. We finally have the Internet.

Consider:

* "The Rocky Mountain News may be closed, but its former staffers are still producing quality journalistic reports, thanks in part to IWantMyRocky.com. The newspaper staff started the Web site several months ago in an effort to rally support for the struggling paper. Eventually it morphed into a de facto news site as well, and now contains reports and features that previously would have been in the Rocky."

* "One start-up thinking bigger is San Diego News Network, populated with former Union-Tribune journalists and backed by entrepreneurs Neil Senturia and Barbara Bry, who expect nothing less than to take on the local daily when their news site launches March 18."

* "Baristanet, run by former New York Times New Jersey columnist Debra Galant, is one of the best-known local blogs in the New York area but supports only one full-time employee, Ms. Galant, bringing in 'six figures' in ad revenue last year."

* "The McCormick Foundation is looking to hire a 'beat' reporter on First Amendment issues."

* The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is going online-only.

* MySpace just sent me an e-mail asking if I watched last night's Family Guy. A premium alert system might notify me that more tickets for the Twins series against the Cubs were just released, or that Wilco just added a second show.

* "Barack Obama's presidential campaign spent over $16 million on online advertising in 2008. John McCain's camp spent a fraction of that: around $3.6 million."

And:

* Ezra Klein is right, and that's why the new business model is a new content model. Bloggers have shown the way. Maybe you don't have a movie critic - or maybe you have a fleet of them, or a movie blog, who knows - but you own sites like Pitchfork and MLBRumors and CTATattler. This is our chance to remake the news. How great is that?

* Ezra Klein is wrong. Who cares if Politico is "reliant on the Congress-section of their print paper, which can extract huge rates from lobbying organizations and pressure groups"? Part of the new(ish) business model is to have an array of revenue streams from a variety of products you can spin off your brand. Plus, is instant success the only kind of success that counts, or can we give some new ventures some room to breathe? My God . . .

Simonize
David Simon is almost entirely right - passionately, articulately, heartachingly so - about newspapers, but I have to take issue with his conclusion in a Washington Post piece that is getting a lot of attention. Simon writes:

"There is a lot of talk nowadays about what will replace the dinosaur that is the daily newspaper. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers and media pundits have lined up to tell us that newspapers are dying but that the news business will endure, that this moment is less tragic than it is transformational.

"Well, sorry, but I didn't trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick's identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn't anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.

"I didn't trip over a herd of hungry Sun reporters either, but that's the point. In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it."

1. Just because newspapers are dying, it doesn't mean that reporters will also disappear. And I'm not talking about citizen journalists or the dreaded stereotypical blogger that so many have in their imagination and whom I've yet to actually meet . . . Simon is falsely equating newspapers with journalism.

2. I included his comment about the lack of Sun reporters on the case in question - and covering police adequately in general - to be fair, but here I think Simon really gets it wrong. Newspapers abdicated these responsibilities years ago - and many never met them to begin with. Simon was lucky to work at the Baltimore Sun at a time when it apparently took its work seriously, but something like 80 percent of America's dailies have circulations under 75,000, and even among our biggest metropolitan papers you will find very little marrow in the bone.

When I was at the Chicago Tribune in 1993-94, they had no interest in reading police reports. My habit of incorporating public documents into routine daily reporting - as I had been trained to do both in Minnesota and Florida - ended here in City News Bureau-tough Chicago. My understanding is that City News reporters didn't read police reports either, by the way.

But lo and behold, we now have folks like Jamie Kalven and the Chicago Justice Project pressing the police for documents that the dailies haven't bothered with. Add Adrian Holovaty's EveryBlock to the mix of loosening up public data for all to see.

Let's just be clear that crappy police reporting - and reporting of all kinds - has nothing to do with the rise of the Internet. As I've written before, when I arrived in Waterloo, Iowa to work the police beat there, the paper had never looked at reports. My predecessor, though, went to all the cop parties.

And that's more the rule than the exception in our industry. The Internet has nothing to do with it.

Carr Crash
To the best of my recollection, I've never met David Carr, the New York Times media columnist, though we traveled in nearly the same circles back in the day in Minneapolis. (We share an acquaintance, for example, with Beachwood music writer Don Jacobson, who helped Carr research his recent book.) And I'm a big Carr fan; he's a tremendously talented reporter, writer and columnist. If you aren't reading him, you ought to be.

But I think he got a couple important points wrong on Sunday with the wish list in his column "United, Newspapers May Stand." Let's take a look.

CARR: "No more free content. The Web has become the primary delivery mechanism for quality newsrooms across the country, and consumers will have to participate in financing the newsgathering process if it is to continue. Setting the price point at free - the newspaper analyst Alan D. Mutter called it the 'original sin' - has brought the industry millions of eyeballs and a return that doesn't cover the coffee budget of some newsrooms."

RHODES: Consumers are paying - with every ad they see. And the original sin wasn't a free price point. In fact, in the early days you had to pay to read, say, the Tribune and New York Times online by subscribing to AOL. The industry's original sin was letting nearly everyone and their dog settle the Internet when newspapers had the natural advantage from the start.

*

CARR: "The big threat would be that newspapers could lose the readers they have, lots of them. The mitigating factor is that a lot of those readers aren't paying anyway. And keep in mind that people are already paying for quality content all over the Web: The Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Tiered Web access - from a bare-bones free product to a rich, customized subscription - could be among the solutions."

RHODES: You're really scraping the bottom of the barrel when you have to dig down to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to find a third example, but these examples don't fit anyway. Consumer Reports has always not only been a subscription product, but a high-priced one because it never carries ads. The Journal has a uniquely wealthy audience looking for uniquely specific information. These aren't models. But I agree that newspapers can - and should - create subscription products along with their free websites. But you can't charge for news, and creating a bare-bones product for the serfs is a terrible idea.

*

CARR: "No more free ride to aggregators. Google announced that it would begin selling ads against Google News, with almost no financial accommodation to the organizations that generate that news . . . Google, The Huffington Post and Newser have built their audiences and brands on other people's labors."

RHODES: If newspapers were really so upset with aggregators, they wouldn't crave getting links from Drudge and they wouldn't be optimizing their keywords for Google searches. If some aggregators go beyond fair use, fine. But aggregators in general are bringing your product to even more eyeballs, and sending a fair share of those eyeballs to your product. Instead of accusing aggregators of stealing content, newspapers should be asking aggregators how they can do a better job serving their needs.

*

CARR: "Most aggregators are not promoting newspaper content; they are repurposing it to their own ends. Newspapers' audiences are harvested and sold divorced from the content that attracted them in the first place."

RHODES: Let's say that 50 percent of readers who see a New York Times headline and summary on Huffington Post don't click through to the story. Well, 50 percent did! Plus, the 50 percent who didn't weren't going to the Times site anyway. No customer has been stolen. They weren't customers to begin with.

*

Instead of swimming against the tide, newspaper folk should spend more time thinking about how to make the new technology work for them; forming partnerships with folks like those at Google who clearly know what they're doing; and exulting in the virtual blank slate that has opened up a new realm of possibility, from content to revenue streams. It would get us all where we need to be a whole helluva lot sooner.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Lou at 3:05 PM | Permalink

The [Tuesday] Papers

As promised:

1. "Gary Sinise fumes," Robert K. Elder writes in the Tribune.

"As we talk and tour the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in the South Loop, Sinise's gravel-and-coffee-grounds growl picks up momentum and passion. At one point, he's hard to interrupt to ask a question as his voice succumbs to infuriated frustration. Especially when talking about director Brian De Palma.

"Listen: He was out to get the troops, to depict them as child rapists. That's the truth he wanted to tell. That's one particular, horrible episode that happened by, clearly, some criminals who happen to be in the American military'."

Okay . . .

"Sinise, who made a documentary for Fox News about his time in Iraq, was particularly infuriated by De Palma's Redacted, an award-winning but divisive drama about soldiers who raped a young Iraqi girl.

"'There are 150,000 people serving honorably, but Brian De Palma didn't care to show those stories,' Sinise says.

"His venom catches me off guard, not only because De Palma directed Sinise in both Mission to Mars and Snake Eyes, but also because Sinise says he never saw Redacted."

Every film critic in the nation should pledge right now to rip Sinise's next movie without seeing it.

2. You can find David Simon and David Carr in my new post, "Weep Not For The Newspaper Industry."

3. "They've got a list of 'The 50 Hottest Women on Radio' on PopCrunch.com, and not a single one is from Chicago, which is craaaaaaaazy," Richard Roeper "writes."

I know! Dude! That's loco! Hit me back later, we'll totally come up with our own list and tweet it . . .

*

That's all for today, sorry, I ended up writing that long newspaper post and putting it on our People, Places & Things page, otherwise known as PPT.

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UPDATE 11:13 A.M.: It's very possible I won't have my column ready until after my noon lunch meeting. But here are a few things to chew on before then:

* Spencer Maus fashions his own version of the Sun-Times Chicago Sports Fan Survey.

* Sam Singer has a better idea for a gay marriage compromise.

* Sen. Roland Burris (D-Margin of Error).

* The Tribune, Its Sports Consultant, and Blago.

* All Eyes On Fred Lebed.

UPDATE 11:03 A.M.: And Gary Sinise.

PROGRAMMING NOTE 10:30 A.M.: There will be a Papers column today, but things seem to be moving in slow-motion around here. Air resistance is particularly thick in Beachwood HQ. I suspect sabotage. First they tried poisoning me . . .

But just as a tease, I'll tell you that today's column will include David Simon, Richard Roeper, and David Carr.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Greatest Hits.

Posted by Lou at 10:36 AM | Permalink

Taking Government Out Of The Marriage Business

For hurling same-sex marriage back into the Op/Ed cycle, we owe thanks to gay marriage supporter Jonathan Rauch and gay marriage opponent David Blankenhorn, the joint authors of a widely circulated New York Times piece which seemed to steer the naturally polarized dialogue toward more civil waters. In it, they claim to have reached a "reconciliation" on same-sex marriage, an agreement they believe will pacify the culture war until it reaches "a healthier, calmer track" at an undetermined point in the future.

Here, in relevant part, is what they came up with: "Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill."

There are a number of questionable assumptions at work here, none more so than the idea that the fate of a reconciliation might somehow turn on added layers of protection for religious conscience.

Such protections, remember, would come on top of those already supplied by the First Amendment, which has a thing or two to say about states meddling in the affairs of religious organizations. Indeed, under no reasonable reading of the First Amendment could a state require a church to recognize a same-sex marriage. Rauch and Blankenhorn admit this much, but their concern is with the less contentious, more everyday interactions between law and religion: "What if," they surmise, "a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner or else face legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status?" I can't speak for both sides of the conversation, but this hardly seems like a deal-breaker. What Rauch and Blankenhorn have done here is to un-stick a sticking point which until now existed only in their imagination. It's argumentative slight of hand, and if the articles' reception among liberal bloggers is any indication, it didn't work.

But if it's a grand bargain we're after, consider an alternative federal law prohibiting states from attaching legal significance to an individual's marital status. The law would define "marital status" narrowly to include an individual's relationship with a significant other as recognized by a religious organization. Likewise, the law would define "marriage" as the spiritual union of two individuals. Under this regime, legal benefits or obligations which traditionally flow from marital status would do so no longer. Instead, states could recognize and regulate healthy, stable interpersonal relationships by way of civil union, provided they do so equally and on a secular basis. Left for churches and other religious organizations are the religious and moral dimensions of "marriage." Religious organizations will have autonomy over those aspects of matrimony in which they claim historical or divine province. That is, churches would be left to govern the sacred principles associated with the institution, and to ordain whichever marriages they see fit without fear of legal repercussion.

By unpacking "marriage," by separating the religious and moral elements from the civil, this reconciliation offers three benefits over competing proposals. First, it anticipates gay marriage opponents' most prominent argument, which is that state recognition of same-sex marriage deprives the sacred ritual of much of its meaning. This might be true of a law requiring states to bring same-sex couples under the umbrella of traditional marriage, grounded as it is in spirituality and religious ritual. But the same can't be said of a law which strips states of the authority to define marriage, which confines them to a strictly civil role while preserving for religious groups conceptual control of the institution. Here, opponents will argue that to secularize the state's treatment of marriage is to undermine our traditional conception of the institution. This argument gets weaker the further it is pressed. That is, the deeper the institution's roots in religion, the shakier the state's constitutional grounds for backing it. If a secular approach to marriage seems a contradiction in terms, perhaps that is all the more reason to stand behind it. The state's secular interests in promoting healthy and stable families should be of no consequence to a religious organization. To the extent opponents relied on such recognition to add legitimacy for their own definitions of marriage, they did so misguidedly.

Second, by stripping everyone of state and federal marital status, this proposal escapes equal protection challenge. This is no small matter. Whatever its form, a legislative compromise must be built to withstand scrutiny in the courts. Like similar proposals of their kind, Rauch and Blankenhorn's solution would provide same-sex couples the rights of marriage without the official designation. Such a compromise may seem reasonable, but for many in the gay community, it is all too redolent of "separate but equal."

Finally, as Rauch and Blankenhorn point out, both sides of the dispute would get along better "if religious groups can be confident that they will not be forced to support or facilitate gay marriage." If the goal is to inspire such confidence, demarcating the state's interest in regulating marriage from those of religious organizations would accomplish just that.

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Sam Singer is a third-year law student at Emory University and a resident of Northbrook. You can reach him here.

Posted by Lou at 9:34 AM | Permalink

My Chicago Sports Survey

Editor's Note: Last week we offered what we thought was a much better version of the Sun-Times' Chicago Sports Fan Survey and asked for yours. Spencer Maus answered the call.

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1. Who is your favorite Chicago athlete?

A) Derrick Rose
B) Carlos Zambrano
C) Mark Buehrle
D) Brian Urlacher
E) Patrick Kane
F) Other

My Choice: Jake Peavy - come on do the trade already

*

2. Which team will be next to win a championship?

A) Bears
B) Bulls
C) Blackhawks
D) Cubs
E) White Sox

My Choice: Chicago Rush - they will have no competition

*

3. Which Chicago-area college team is your favorite?

A) DePaul
B) Illinois
C) Loyola
D) NIU
E) Northwestern
F) Notre Dame
G) UIC

My Choice: The Fightin' Typists of Truman College

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4. Who is the best Chicago newcomer?

A) Derrick Rose
B) Kris Versteeg
C) Milton Bradley
D) Matt Forte
E) Carlos Quentin

My Choice: Jake Peavy - come on do the trade already

*

5. Rank your favorite teams.

My Choice: A, C, E, D, G, F, B

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6. What is your favorite sports-radio station?

A) WSCR
B) WMVP

My Choice: Do I really have to choose?

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7. What is your favorite local sports-radio show?

My Choice: Election returns - in Chicago politics is THE sport

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8. Who is the city's best play-by-play voice?

My Choice: Carol Marin - see question 7

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9. Who is the city's best color analyst?

My Choice: Greg Hinz - see question 7

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Questions Not Asked That Should Have Been

1. Which connected friends of Daley will get the most over inflated contracts to build Olympic sites?

2. If a northbound Red Line train leaves Cellular Field traveling at 35 MPH, and a southbound Red Line train leaves Wrigley Field traveling 37 MPH, which train will have the most inebriated fans?

3. Where is Mark Cuban when the Cubs and Chicago sports need him most?

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Send us your survey answers and compete for prizes and cash!


Posted by Lou at 8:43 AM | Permalink

March 9, 2009

The [Monday] Papers

I'm still a little funky but I think I can string together a few coherent sentences.

First, from an interesting post from Nathan Richardson, the CEO of ContentNext Media, which owns paidContent.org, called "How Silicon Valley Can Help Save Newspapers:"

"One day I was invited to a meeting to brainstorm about, of all things, the width of the Wall Street Journal. After I made a suggestion that was somewhere between novel and off the wall, the then-publisher leaned on the table, looked at me and said: 'How old are you, young man?' The suggestion was clear: If you're under 40, you can't possibly understand the newspaper business. I still wish my response, though impolitic, had been: 'How old is your thinking?'"

As I've written ad nauseum, problems inside newspapers and oldstream media organizations aren't just technological, but cultural. I rarely watch the network news, but every time I do I'm struck by how the broadcasts are essentially the same as they were 20 years ago - and how nearly identical they are on each of the networks. The same for local news. And for all their redesigns and change committees and inner bravado - "I want new ideas! I crave new ideas!" former Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski once bellowed to me during an interview - newspapers are essentially the same as they've been for decades. (I know because my apartment has about 20 years' of newspapers piled up in stacks and files and boxes and other stacks; and no, I didn't believe for a second that Ann Marie wanted new ideas, just slightly new versions of the same old ideas.)

It's not just about figuring out the Internet (ugh, are we still trying to do that?) it's about figuring out how to do your jobs differently - and better. And that doesn't mean finding just the right mix of feature stories or straining to be "hip" (but not too hip) or obsessing over click rates of celebrity stories, but about strategies and approaches to reporting the news. And that means massive cultural change in our newsrooms, because I can assure you (and so can many Beachwood readers) that this - from Richardson - does not describe newsroom culture in even the slightest way:

"Companies in Silicon Valley depend on having a fast-paced culture of innovation where no ideas are bad ideas, all voices are heard, technology is embraced not feared, and you are irrelevant if you aren't open to change. To achieve aggressive goals in competitive environments, teams have to work together without hidden agendas or obsessive attention to where in the chain of command a new idea originates."

Sound familiar? I didn't think so.

*

"The very companies that are ensuring newspapers' online traffic/existence should be leading the dialogue on their survival," Richardson writes. "Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and AOL - not the editors, journalists and cadre of analysts who have led the newspapers to the brink - should be put in charge of identifying ways to keep a select number of news outlets viable. There are three reasons why the tech leaders should be driving this bus: their culture of innovation; their dependence on newspapers; and their track record of creating and growing sources of online revenue."

I would say that journalists cannot be left out of the discussion, but before entering the discussion journalists need a little bit of remedial education to get them up to speed.

*

"[R]ather than wait for papers to reinvent themselves, fresh thinking from Silicon Valley should be a big part of the solution. I was 35 when the Wall Street Journal publisher asked me my age. The reality is that even then, I was old in digital terms, and I now look to 25-year-olds for ideas and innovation. Silicon Valley gets that - but I'm not sure the newspaper business does."

*

Richardson also has some specific ideas on revenue, so go read the whole thing - and then come back.

Yelp Help
"With the Web site Yelp still responding to allegations by San Francisco businesses that it manipulates the prominence of positive and negative reviews, some Chicago merchants are adding to the heat," the Tribune reports.

"They allege that Yelp representatives have offered to rearrange positive and negative reviews for companies that advertise on the site or sponsor Yelp Elite parties."

The San Francisco allegations appeared a week ago in the New York Times. Yelpers have already responded to the Trib piece by calling it "shoddy journalism," which is ironic and laughable on at least three levels.

Yelp is entertaining and even occasionally useful, but it could do everyone a huge favor by instituting some quality control over both its sales agents and its writers.

Paging Jerry Angelo
Our very own Jim Coffman would like a word with you.

Beachwood Aged
A few posts got a little hung up last week when I was struck with a rare illness I'm still trying to diagnose via the Web. It was definitely something exotic.

* The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week. And who had them.

* Fantasy Fix: Get Shaq. Plus, the sleeper Cub and the sleeper Sock in your baseball draft.

* Track Notes: The Harlem Ave. Exit. Introducing the Reality Show Alert system.

Waco Beachland
"The first song of their set at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland on Saturday, March 7, 2009."

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Nothing at all.

Posted by Lou at 9:12 AM | Permalink

SportsMonday: Earth to Angelo

Paging Jerry Angelo . . . Paging Jerry Angelo . . . Please pick up a white courtesy telephone, give us a call and tell us why on God's green (soon) earth you aren't signing anyone? Please?

I'm not one of those guys who torches you every time a big-name free agent signs with someone else. Does anyone who really follows pro football think that T.O. would be the answer to anything that ails the Bears? Come on. And we realize that while no NFL team has figured out a way to win big through free agency, several have determined how to lose (the Redskins spring to mind, as do the Cowboys of the last few years and even the Raiders, though they barely, barely matter). And that way is to overpay past-their-prime stiffs who don't fit into your system.

But Jerry, you need to sign at least a warm body or two who have, I don't know, maybe started in the NFL at some point in their careers. You have some big stinkin' holes in your team and you won't be able to fill them all with draft picks.

Let's start with the primary hole you yourself identified at the start of the off-season. We didn't think quarterback was anywhere near the biggest need for this team but that was your primary point of emphasis when you listed areas of concern at that point. So where is the new quarterback to provide Kyle Orton with needed competition (except he doesn't need it - but we're looking at this from Jerry's point of view right now)? Surely, surely, you aren't going to pretend that Brett Basanez (or was it Zac Kustok?) is the answer? In a little noted free-agent signing (because Basanez's pro career has been of no note so far), the Bears brought the former Northwestern signal-caller back to Chicago recently. And I have confirmed it was Basanez and not fellow former Wildcat signal-caller Kustok. Basanez has been sitting around doing nothing in Charlotte for the Panthers the past three years. He is obviously not the answer at quarterback.

But enough about a position that is actually, ably filled by a returning Bear who won't cost the Bears much at all. OK, one more thing. There was a school of thought that responded to Angelo's thoughts on the quarterback position by pointing out that Orton only had one year left on his contract and that the general manager was trying to put pressure on him to sign a cheap extension with the Bears before the season starts. But he won't do that if you don't sign a legitimate veteran back-up, will he Jerry?

This time that is definitely all about a position that the Bears don't have to actually worry about next season (it becomes increasingly clear they'll have to worry about it in 2010, of course, but not in 2009). The Bears have real holes at safety and wide receiver (Angelo actually said that rookie washout Earl Bennett, who couldn't get on the field last year despite the Bears starting one of the weakest wide receiver corps in the NFL, still has potential at that position - but that's not true, Jerry! Is the problem here that you can't handle the truth?!). The Monsters of the Skidway need a pass rushing defensive end and an offensive tackle. They need depth at linebacker.

Throw Bear fans a bone, Jerry. Even a chicken (receiver) bone would be a start.

Bull Grit
Luol Deng looked around last week and (after a couple tries) finally found a doctor who took a bone scan of his leg that showed a tiny stress fracture (others had called it a bone bruise). Supposedly he will meet with that Florida-based doctor early this week to determine if he should play through the injury or call it quits on the season.

As if he needs to meet with a doctor to decide. Deng decided last week that the injury hurt enough that he could sit out the rest of the season guilt-free. He'll meet with this doctor, the guy will tell him there's a tiny chance that playing on the injury could make it worse and Deng will bow out of yet another sizable swath of a season. The Bulls gave Deng $70-million-plus last off-season despite the fact that he showed himself to be physically and mentally frail during the 2007-08 campaign. They didn't offer Ben Gordon that much and they didn't sign the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent guard. Did you notice that yet again the biggest factor in a Bulls win, this time over Milwaukee on Friday, was Gordon's scoring (a game-high 34 points)? And Gordon had seven assists by the way. So now either the Bulls will lose Gordon for nothing in the off-season or they'll (probably) trade Kirk Hinrich and a draft pick or two to create room to re-sign him. Nice.

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Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday. Comments are welcome.


Posted by Lou at 6:21 AM | Permalink

March 7, 2009

TrackNotes: The Harlem Ave. Exit

Joe Tala-Who? Joe Talamo. That's who.

On this week's Jockeys, we get a full dose of The Kid. The ups, the downs, the Jockeys version of an intervention, the hope for the future. This episode seems the most staged, the most manipulated, the most heavily edited. Things out of order or left out completely. I'll inject (RSA) - for Reality Show Alert - when I think the reality has been manipulated in some way.

Young Joe is in a slump and in the first three races today, he'll try to break out.

Race 1: Right out of the gate, Talamo and his two-year-old maiden, the No. 2 horse, do an exit, stage right, and then veer severely left in corrective mode. Clipping heels with the No. 1, it's a miracle there wasn't a spill. Hall of Famer Mike Smith and veteran Jon Court shake their heads. To illustrate, Smith narrates a clip of a sloppy 1998 race that put him into the hedge face first, resulting in a severely broken back. Talamo's name goes up on the stewards' board. He'll be meeting with the law tomorrow morning.

Race 2: We get only a no-depth-perception head-on replay of the stretch run (RSA) as it appears to this observer that Talamo goes for a hole that won't be open when he gets there - if he can get there. His horse sticks his head between two others, and in natural weaving by the other two, all three of them almost go down. The two leaders pinch him back out. No objection or inquiry is posted, but once again Talamo's on the chalkboard. Joe makes like he's in deep shit, but he also looks like he knows he'll avoid a suspension. (RSA) "These young guys are getting more and more aggressive," says Court, shaking his head once again.

Race 3: Crazy Joe is speeding eastbound on the Eisenhower at Des Plaines Avenue with his right blinker on. All's well as he sees the sign alerting him to the Harlem Avenue exit just ahead. There's the exit. But it's on THE LEFT SIDE! Uh oh. Joe darts across every lane of traffic, just making it up the ramp. Or so it seemed as Talamo pulled just such a maneuver to get to the rail and clear sailing as he wins his race three. Martin Garcia files an objection, which is denied, and the win stands.

In the jocks' room, veteran Aaron Gryder and the rest try to get through to Talamo. They're fairly quiet, gentle and calm (RSA). I would think there'd be at least some profanity, even if bleeped out.

It's now time for a veteran to take Joe "under his wing." Talamo, Smith, Gryder, Court and Alex Solis go to dinner. The kid orders a big meal and the veteran jocks wince. Smith tells him "cut it in half and take the rest home." They're teaching him how to eat! Then they light into "the kids these days." Including "these kids today, everybody thinks the younger you are, the better you are. It don't work that way." Or "it takes that long to get that good. You ain't gonna be that good 'til your 30s!" We get closeup video of Joe's major depressed look (RSA). To me, it looks like Joe absolutely cannot fathom 30 years old. Chuckle.

So Joe's in front of the stewards with a Jockeys Guild rep and must face the music, and it's not going well. But everyone in the room, with the cameras rolling (RSA), everyone is pulling their punches (RSA). The only race we see reviewed is the first (RSA), where a green two-year-old might very well veer like that. The other two races were far more dangerous. The narrator is barely finished waxing on and on about how closely the stewards watch the races and how safety is Job One when we learn that Talamo will not get any days (suspension) for his actions (RSA). I think he should have gotten at least three days.

A relieved Talamo and all the rest gather at Smith's condo to par-tay! It's in honor of retired jockey Gary Stevens, a Hall of Famer who might be better known for his attention-getting turn playing rider George Wolff in Seabiscuit. Gathered around the fancy California fire pit, Stevens, who looks a bit tipsy and Sammy Maudlin to me, goes serious and tells Joe to listen to his elders and learn from them, and keep working hard. Reminded me of "Pep Talk" from the tremendous Albert King / Stevie Ray Vaughn collaboration In Session. A bonus is some fast camera work of Mike's live-in girl, rider Chantal Sutherland, giving him a peck on the cheek. It wasn't enough, so she practically starts mauling him. Quick cut to living room.

Smith gives Talamo a DVD of some of his rides on the great Holy Bull, winner of many stakes races including the Florida Derby, the Travers and the Woodward, and both Three-Year-Old Champion and Horse of the Year in 1994. He's also the sire of Derby winner Giacomo (Smith aboard). "Watch this five times. You'll understand how to ride a good horse. If you don't get it after five times, you'll never get it," Smith tells him, making him promise, twice, not to lose the DVD. Why do we think he's going to lose the DVD? He didn't - this week.

Joe is chastened and cleansed and starts working out with Mike Smith. They jog around the track and stop on the backstretch, where Smith gives him the classic "nose to the grindstone" speech (RSA). They're not sweating or breathing hard (RSA). Sweat appears in on Talamo's shirt (RSA) in the behind-them shot walking back to the clubhouse.

In the second half hour, it seems Alex Solis' son, Alex, Jr., is a bloodstock agent and the old man rides his horses. He doesn't do well in a fillies and mares race, but then we see Solis win the Norfolk Stakes with Street Hero. That win launched him to the Breeders Cup, where he finished third to Midshipman in the Juvenile. He was injured in the race and retired in December. Solis Jr. owns a piece of The Pamplemousse, a very highly touted prospect for this year's Derby, but more on him later.

Chicago kid Brandon Meier is having problems. He can't get a ride, or enough rides to make a living. It's the eve of the Breeders Cup and the big shots are swarming Santa Anita. An apprentice ain't gonna get much action. In one last hurrah, Meier is wiring the field aboard One Time at Band Camp. In a shot they tried not to show (major RSA), Talamo pulls a Dan Ryan Expressway multi-lane change and gets up to beat Meier by a nose. This kid needs to sit!

Brandon lounges on his second-story porch with a view of the Pacific because he has no horses to ride. Making the painful decision, we soon see the rear end of his Chevy SUV as he heads back to Kentucky. It's a good move for him. I'm sure we'll see him this summer at Arlington.

On the Triple Crown Trail
We had two major races last week that need talking about.

The Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream was supposed to be a speed demonstration with Notonthesamepage taking the lead, This One's for Phil staying right there and stalking into the win, or another closer mopping up after the race fell apart. Those two did the opposite, with Phil being taken to the lead, albeit a slow first quarter, and 'page stalking, which hasn't been his style. But right there the whole way was Quality Road - thank you very much - who drew off to win by nearly five lengths. He was impressive in handling the slow-then-fast pace. Theregoesjojo flew up to second but could only chase Quality Road and Beethoven overcame traffic to finish third. This One's for Phil finished fifth with Notonthesamepage fading to seventh. It was announced after the race that he bled badly in his lungs, not uncommon at all, but they'll have to check him out. These two and Capt. Candyman Can (fourth) will not run in the Florida Derby, according to their connections. Their Derby hopes have been seriously damaged.

Out West, it was The Pamplemousse in the Sham (GIII), as expected. Setting his own nice pace, he looked smooth and powerful drawing off to a seven-length win. Take the Points finished second, Mr. Hot Stuff third.

Looking Good
* Quality Road
* Theregoesjojo
* The Pamplemousse

Looking Not So Good
* This One's for Phil
* Notonthesamepage
* Taqarub
* Capt. Candyman Can
* Beethoven
* Midshipman

New York, New York
I Want Revenge travels from California to Aqueduct's inner track for the Gotham Stakes (GIII). The angle here is that he doesn't like the artificial surface at Santa Anita and will test out the dirt, the same surface they run the Kentucky Derby on, by golly. He'll butt heads with Imperial Council, who takes the big step up, and Mr. Fantasy, a speed demon who steps out of the admittedly softer New York-bred ranks and tries to hit the Derby trail. Haynesfield is in the same boat. The big upset bomber could be Russell Road, who ships in from West Virginia.

Big 'Cap Day!
Two out of three for good betting ain't bad Saturday as it's Santa Anita Handicap Day in beautiful Arcadia, California.

Stardom Bound, she of the Derby aspirations, looks to be unstoppable in the Santa Anita Oaks (GI). Trainer Bobby Frankel says she's primed for a big effort. They'll use this as an indicator of whether she can stay on the Road to the Roses.

Familiar faces Ventura, Monterey Jazz (uncertain to run), Global Hunter, Becrux and Gio Ponti all square off on the turf in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (GI). Ventura is a 5-year-old mare who is a recent winner of the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and the Santa Monica, both on the artificial surface. Facing the boys, there's your hook.

The Santa Anita Handicap (GI) is shaping up to be a very competitive and bettable race. Cowboy Cal will take a lot of money, but he'll have to contend with the speed of Matto Mondo and the closing expertise of Colonel John. Magnum won last time out, I got burned by tossing Einstein in the Clark Handicap, Champs Elysees can compete and Court Vision returns to his beloved artificial surface.

* Midshipman, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and champion 2-year-old, is off the Derby trail after suffering an injury in training in Dubai. He's OK, but will miss some months.

* Last, but not least, Hawthorne Race Course opens Friday for its spring meeting running through April 27. Highlight of the meet, as always, will be the Illinois Derby on April 4.

-

Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you Track Notes every Friday. You can reach him here.

Posted by Lou at 9:42 AM | Permalink

Fantasy Fix: Get Shaq

There's a lot to talk about this week, even football, if you can believe it, as a week of trades and free agent chatter is starting to re-shape some of our expectations for next year's fantasy football draft. But, we'll get to that a little later.

First, with most fantasy basketball leagues encountering their trading deadlines this week, there may be one last deal you should make: Get Shaq. What do Shaquille O'Neal and the Dow have in common? They are both posting 1997-like numbers.

Shaq has come alive, and the long-term injury to Amare Stoudemire isn't the only reason. He is indeed playing a lot more, but actually playing like a man with something to play for. Is he trying to carry the Phoenix Suns into a playoff spot? He did earn co-MVP in the NBA All-Star game, but this was basically a door prize for attempting to actually bring some entertainment value to the typically lackluster exhibition (Shaq came out for his pre-game intro dancing and wearing a Jabbawockeez mask - and later scored 17 points in 11 minutes, though half of it came after opponents cleared the lane to let him show off.)

No, what Shaq has been doing in the last few weeks - and in particular, for the last week or so - is for real. In the last five games before Tuesday last week, he was averaging 27 points and 9 rebounds. He has posted two double-doubles in that span, including a 45-point, 11-rebound effort. His free throw percentage is still fairly awful, but he could be worth considering if you are hurting for points out of the center position.

Otherwise, the NBA is entering its final month or so of the season, and fantasy expert commentary seems suddenly scarce.

At least ESPN's Eric Karabell found something to talk about - the biggest single game fantasy performance this season. It takes him a while to get to it, but on the way, enjoy his discussion of the 47th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point, 25-rebound performance. It was, sadly, long before fantasy basketball and the ubiquitous media coverage of sporting events.

Meanwhile, RotoTimes has a quick look at the return of Stephon Marbury, who joined the Boston Celtics last week. Don't expect him to make much of a fantasy impact, though he could get more playing time down the stretch if the Celtics try to rest Rajon Rondo for the post-season.

Fantasy Baseball Round-Up
I signed up for my third fantasy baseball team this week, deciding to try an MLB.com public league for the chance to win $10,000 come October. I also wanted to try a league which uses team pitching staffs rather than individuals (like fantasy football leagues that use team defenses), and heard this was the case at MLB.com.

The list draft is this week, and my one controversial move is to rank the Detroit pitching staff at No. 10, several spots higher than the pre-draft ranking. I think Jim Leyland will have a better year managing that staff than in 2008. I like Brandon Lyon as the closer, as well as the potential for Justin Verlander , Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman to bounce back, new arrival Edwin Jackson to have some big games and Armando Galarraga to have another strong year.

And, as we continue our weekly draft preparations, here are my picks for top sleepers by position:

C: Chris Iannetta. 18 HRs and 65 RBIs last year doesn't make him a real sleeper, but how about 25-100 this year?

1B: Pablo Sandoval. Forecast to emerge as starting 1B for Giants. Power, average and catcher eligibility, too. A good late-round back-up choice.

2B: Mike Fontenot. If he leads off, his OBP could easily result in 100 runs. Also a doubles machine. This year's Mike Aviles?

3B: Dayan Viciedo. There are no real sleepers at this power position, so I'm digging deep. Another Cuban star-in-the-making, he still has to make the team and beat out Josh Fields, but has huge power. Could be a nice last-round pick if he makes the roster.

SS: Jason Bartlett. Ben Zobrist will press him, but Bartlett has 40-steal speed, could hit .300 and score 120 round in Tampa's line-up. Zobrist has pomise, too. Come to think of it, I'll change my sleeper pick to the power-hitting Zobrist if he beats out Bartlett.

OF: Cameron Maybin, Denard Span, Elijah Dukes. Maybin is likely to lead off and has great speed; Span could hit .300 and steal 50 bases; Given a full, controversy-free season, Dukes could hit 30 HRs, 100 RBIs.

SP: Chris Carpenter and Max Scherzer. Former Cy Young winner Carpenter is coming off major injury, and will be a major surprise for a better-than-it-looks Cardinals team. Scherzer is a sixth starter right now, but double-digit strikeouts per nine innings demand attention. Should have RP eligibility, too, so pick him after you have your starting four set and see what happens.

RP: Joey Devine, Jason Motte. Both Devine and Motte are set-up men who will compete for closer jobs in Oakland and St. Louis, respectively. Both throw very hard and collect multiple strikeouts per inning. Both could be a great source of hold points and K points even if they remain as set-up men.

Meanwhile, the other fantasy experts continue to make their lists and check them twice:

* Roto Arcade takes a look a SS Stephen Drew and asks if he's a better choice than Derek Jeter. Drew has an outside shot at 20 HRs, with a lower average than Jeter and around the same number of RBIs. I like Drew to improve this season, and would take him over Jeter given the chance.

* Bleacher Report has a position report on catchers. While everyone likes Matt Wieters, BR notes that Ramon Hernandez, who was shipped out of Baltimore to give Wieters a chance, could end up having a great year in his new home, Cincinnati. True enough, he's in a wonderful hitters' park now, in the midst of a young, exciting lineup.

* Fantasy Clocks ranks the top 40 pitchers, and the most interesting choice may be Kevin Slowey at No. 7. Slowey has been compared to - wait for it - Greg Maddux. Slowey was 12-11, 123 Ks and 3.99 ERA last year, so No. 7 - ahead of Jake Peavy and Cole Hamels, among others - is perhaps pushing it.

Fantasy Football Round-Up
There was probably more activity with fantasy football impact last week than during all of January. The big move was Matt Cassel's move to Kansas City, which answered the question of whether Cassel would start next year. He definitely will, and he'll have some pretty good targets. Two months ago, I wasn't sure where to put Cassel for next year's fantasy draft. Right now, I'll call him a third-round pick, and maybe the sixth or seventh QB overall.

Next up, tight end Kellen Winslow, somewhat of a bust last year, was traded from Cleveland to Tampa. The QB situation is really no better in Tampa than in Cleveland. Winslow still has great promise, but I think he falls outside the top 5 TEs for next year. Meanwhile, Cleveland QB Brady Quinn's stock could take a hit unless Cleveland makes some impressive off-season signing in the TE or receiver corps.

A lesser move saw QB Sage Rosenfels traded to Minnesota, which means Tarvaris Jackson will have competition for the starter's job. Rosenfels has big upside if he gets the job, but he basically lost the same sort of competition in Houston to Matt Schaub.

Other news: It was looking like QB comebacker Kurt Warner was headed to San Francisco, but fantasy managers got their wish when he returned to Arizona, where his points are. Also, QB Jay Cutler was annoyed by the reports that Denver tried to land Cassel before K.C. got him. Is it enough to make Cutler leave?

Finally, Mr. Consistency at running back, veteran Fred Taylor, landed in New England, a team that no doubt will know how to use him. It also means that Maurice Jones-Drew will have the backfield to himself in Jacksonville. Many folks already saw him as a top five running back, and you can bank on it now.

-

Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears every Wednesday, except when it appears on Thursday. Tips, comments, and suggestions are welcome.

Posted by Lou at 9:40 AM | Permalink

The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week

1. I always thought of my brain as flypaper for salacious gossip, but the thought of dull, bespectacled CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin knocking up the daughter of dull, bespectacled former CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield just makes my head hurt. Daddy issues much? Or more of a CNN thing?

2. Just think: If Jimmy Fallon had received more attention from his parents as a child, we'd all be watching Late Night with Horatio Sanz. (And when I say all of us, I mean the entire Home Depot cleaning crew at store No. 326 in Laporte, Indiana.)

3. Homemakers of America, take note. Bed, Bath & Beyond is sponsoring a competition for women inventors. Products must be "related to the home" and "solution-oriented." Okay, how about a ball gag for that ShamWow guy?

4. I went to CPAC last week and all I got was this crummy T-shirt . . . and a suspicious looking rash. Damn you, Trent Lott.

5. You loved the impeachment, now read the book. Chapter Five: "Bobby Jindal's on the line, Governor. He wants to know who does your hair."

-

Look for Stephanie Goldberg's Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week in this space on Fridays.

Posted by Lou at 9:38 AM | Permalink

The Weekend Desk Report

We'll be watching, even if there is an hour less to watch this week.

Market Update
Following President Obama's lead, we have decided to rename this segment "Change Watch." By the way, the president might want to check his own portfolio, because Change seems to have been somewhat overvalued and Hope is positively in the shitter.

Resentment Reset
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week attempted literally to hit the Reset button on relations with Russia, which notoriously tanked after that whole war thing. Although the Reset button has a finite number of uses, State Department sources indicate Clinton is already considering other deployments. Topping her list so far are:

1. That whole war thing
2. African supply trucks
3. The lettering on the Reset button, because goodness knows we've all Overcharged enough
4. The whole concept of a "reset" button. It's just making things way too easy for her critics.

Manning the Census
Look, we're just saying if you're worried about shifting political landscapes, nobody's better at sharing the wealth than this guy.

March Badness
We're still a week removed from Selection Sunday, but the field is beginning to take shape. Despite recent defeats, Financiers top seed Bernie Madoff still looks to be the overall favorite. Meanwhile, we're projecting Jody Weis as a dangerous mid-bracket floater in the Weasels section.

Vigilance
Finally this week, it looks like Uncle Dick wasn't just blowing smoke after all. International criminal elements really are still out to get us.

SUNDAY WEEKEND UPDATE
* The Five Dumbest Ideas of the Week. And who had them.

* Fantasy Fix: Get Shaq. Plus, the sleeper Cub and the sleeper Sock in your baseball draft.

* Track Notes: The Harlem Ave. Exit. Introducing the Reality Show Alert system.

Ferdy Film Frenzy
Take an immature, completely self-absorbed, wannabe rock musician. Put him with a geeky, self-absorbed, wannabe novelist. Throw in a cute, wannabe performance artist who has just broken up with the rock musician poseur to take up with a self-styled guru journalist, and shake with a lot of jealousy. What do you get? One of the funniest movies about hipster and media culture to hit screens in a long time. is absolutely, absurdly hilarious!

Posted by Natasha at 8:46 AM | Permalink

March 6, 2009

The [Friday] Papers

No Papers column again today. The bug has turned lethal. I want Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" played at my funeral.

FRIDAY FERDY FILM FRENZY

Take an immature, completely self-absorbed, wannabe rock musician. Put him with a geeky, self-absorbed, wannabe novelist. Throw in a cute, wannabe performance artist who has just broken up with the rock musician poseur to take up with a self-styled guru journalist, and shake with a lot of jealousy. What do you get? One of the funniest movies about hipster and media culture to hit screens in a long time. is absolutely, absurdly hilarious!

Trailer

The [Wednesday] Papers
Part two on the Chicago Journalism Town Hall is in.

The Quigley Factor
How he slipped in. What it means..

Straw Stroger
"Last Wednesday was a typical day in the campaign to fill Rahm Emanuel's vacant Fifth Congressional seat: I got mailings from three candidates blasting Cook County Board president Todd Stroger," Ben Joravsky writes.

"From the amount of bile spewed against him, you'd think Stroger was the most powerful and incorrigible figure in local politics.

"He's not even close. Offhand I can think of more than 30 other local politicians with more clout than Stroger, including three mere aldermen - Ed Burke, Richard Mell, and Fritchey's uncle-in-law Bill Banks. Stroger's not even the big man on the county board - that role falls to commissioner John Daley."

Ill 5
I've long said that Abdon Pallasch is one of the city's best reporters - someone whose skills and knowledge I admire - but I'm not sure how well his Sun-Times overlords serve him. Because I know Abdon is better than this.

"Could the race to replace U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel be a dead heat between Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley and labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan?

"The Sun-Times' very unscientifically surveyed 11 voters emerging from four precincts on the Northwest Side and one in Wrigleyville."

Eleven voters? How is that the basis of a news story? I mean, maybe on the Internet . . .

Best of Show
The best places to follow the race have been newcomer Jesse Greenberg's blog and at Progress Illinois.

Jesse has a nice recap of the highlights and lowlights, and also gives PI props.

*

I've updated the Political Odds to reflect the election results.

Kid Cop
"The teen, who likely learned some police methods through a police youth program, drove the squad car for two hours, going out on five assignments, and he even helped on a domestic arrest, holding a suspect's arm as the real officer placed handcuffs on him," the Tribune reports.

"But by the time the teen's crime-fighting spree ended with his arrest at about 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24, seven sworn officers had broken department rules, Police Supt. Jody Weis said Tuesday. The boy was arrested after a sergeant noticed he wasn't wearing a police star."

Maybe those officers should be put through the youth training program; it sounds like it does a pretty good job!

"That the teen drove the squad car particularly galled Weis, since the boy wasn't old enough to drive."

Look, I know it's not funny but . . . how in the world is that not hilarious?

"The teen had actually tried to impersonate a police officer earlier in the day but was rebuffed. At about 6:30 a.m., he tried to check out a radio from the Calumet District, but he was turned away when his name wasn't on the radio request list, police said. But the teen was not arrested at that time."

So, what, the cops just say "Hey, you're not supposed to get a radio. Shoo!"?

Stimulated Response
"Illinois still has not officially submitted a list of shovel-ready road and mass transit projects to the federal government for funding under the economic stimulus package, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday, warning that time is running out," the Tribune reports.

"The law requires us to get the money out the door very quickly," LaHood said. But "we have not received a list from the state or from Chicago."

Yes, well, Daley wants to keep his list secret from the feds too. Just wire the money to the city's Swiss bank account.

"A mayoral aide said Tuesday that the city is 'on track' to receiving stimulus funding."

The aide added that we would be moving shortly and we appreciate your patience.

Message Massage
"The Daley administration on Tuesday abruptly canceled 11 public relations contracts with a $55 million pricetag to drive home the point that taxpayers cannot afford to augment the highly controlled message coming out of City Hall," the Sun-Times reports.

Maybe they should have signed a contract first to handle the public relations on spending millions of dollars on public relations.

"We get it. We absolutely get it. We understand that it would seem absurd at a time like this to be using taxpayer funds for this kind of non-essential service," said mayoral press secretary Jacquelyn Heard.

If the services are non-essential, why do we ever need them?

"It's been made abundantly clear to every department that they are not to use these contracts. But I suppose someone could feign ignorance and use them anyway."

Um, is there something in Jackie Heard's eye or did she just let loose a big fat double-wink?

"The door is locked shut on the use of these kinds of firms at this time."

But not later, when nobody is looking.

Gold Medals
Marty Nesbitt, one of Barack Obama's closest friends, has been named to the board of Chicago 2016.

Nesbitt is the president and CEO of The Parking Spot, "a company that owns and operates off-airport parking facilities."

So it's not like he stands to personally gain from the Olympics.

*

This is how Fran Spielman wrote the story:

"Mayor Daley is counting on President Obama to use his worldwide celebrity to carry Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid over the goal line.

"That's why it makes sense to give the president some skin in the game - by putting one of his closest friends on the Chicago 2016 board of directors."

Who is she to say it makes sense?

"There can be a lasting economic impact," Nesbitt says, contrary to what most evidence shows.

"Although the City Council has re-affirmed a $500 million guarantee against operating losses at the 2016 Summer Games, Nesbitt said he's confident Chicago taxpayers will not be left holding the bag.

"'There's sort of a history of U.S. cities pulling off these Olympic events in a way that doesn't cost taxpayers any money,' he said."

Contrary to what most evidence shows.

"We have a decent plan in place that minimizes risk. I don't think there's any risk to taxpayers at all."

Well, there's at least $500 million of "minimal" risk.

Northern Soul, Great Chicago

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Minimal risk.

Posted by Lou at 11:07 AM | Permalink

March 5, 2009

The [Thursday] Papers

No Papers column today; I've got some sort of bug that has me all mumbletypeg. So I'm going to rest up because I'll be at the Billy Goat tonight with Michael Miner at the Chicago Headline Club's Burger Night event. Please note the event runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., not 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. as I wrote earlier this week. It's informal - we'll take questions for awhile and then, I think, just sort of mill around.

FERDY FILM FRENZY
Over at Ferdy on Films, our very own Marilyn Ferdinand has begun her coverage of the first CIMMfest: The Chicago Movies & Music Festival, which runs today through Sunday. Her prefestival coverage is here, along with her first review, of Martino Unstrung.

The [Wednesday] Papers
Part two on the Chicago Journalism Town Hall is in.

The Quigley Factor
How he slipped in. What it means..

Straw Stroger
"Last Wednesday was a typical day in the campaign to fill Rahm Emanuel's vacant Fifth Congressional seat: I got mailings from three candidates blasting Cook County Board president Todd Stroger," Ben Joravsky writes.

"From the amount of bile spewed against him, you'd think Stroger was the most powerful and incorrigible figure in local politics.

"He's not even close. Offhand I can think of more than 30 other local politicians with more clout than Stroger, including three mere aldermen - Ed Burke, Richard Mell, and Fritchey's uncle-in-law Bill Banks. Stroger's not even the big man on the county board - that role falls to commissioner John Daley."

Ill 5
I've long said that Abdon Pallasch is one of the city's best reporters - someone whose skills and knowledge I admire - but I'm not sure how well his Sun-Times overlords serve him. Because I know Abdon is better than this.

"Could the race to replace U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel be a dead heat between Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley and labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan?

"The Sun-Times' very unscientifically surveyed 11 voters emerging from four precincts on the Northwest Side and one in Wrigleyville."

Eleven voters? How is that the basis of a news story? I mean, maybe on the Internet . . .

Best of Show
The best places to follow the race have been newcomer Jesse Greenberg's blog and at Progress Illinois.

Jesse has a nice recap of the highlights and lowlights, and also gives PI props.

*

I've updated the Political Odds to reflect the election results.

Kid Cop
"The teen, who likely learned some police methods through a police youth program, drove the squad car for two hours, going out on five assignments, and he even helped on a domestic arrest, holding a suspect's arm as the real officer placed handcuffs on him," the Tribune reports.

"But by the time the teen's crime-fighting spree ended with his arrest at about 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24, seven sworn officers had broken department rules, Police Supt. Jody Weis said Tuesday. The boy was arrested after a sergeant noticed he wasn't wearing a police star."

Maybe those officers should be put through the youth training program; it sounds like it does a pretty good job!

"That the teen drove the squad car particularly galled Weis, since the boy wasn't old enough to drive."

Look, I know it's not funny but . . . how in the world is that not hilarious?

"The teen had actually tried to impersonate a police officer earlier in the day but was rebuffed. At about 6:30 a.m., he tried to check out a radio from the Calumet District, but he was turned away when his name wasn't on the radio request list, police said. But the teen was not arrested at that time."

So, what, the cops just say "Hey, you're not supposed to get a radio. Shoo!"?

Stimulated Response
"Illinois still has not officially submitted a list of shovel-ready road and mass transit projects to the federal government for funding under the economic stimulus package, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday, warning that time is running out," the Tribune reports.

"The law requires us to get the money out the door very quickly," LaHood said. But "we have not received a list from the state or from Chicago."

Yes, well, Daley wants to keep his list secret from the feds too. Just wire the money to the city's Swiss bank account.

"A mayoral aide said Tuesday that the city is 'on track' to receiving stimulus funding."

The aide added that we would be moving shortly and we appreciate your patience.

Message Massage
"The Daley administration on Tuesday abruptly canceled 11 public relations contracts with a $55 million pricetag to drive home the point that taxpayers cannot afford to augment the highly controlled message coming out of City Hall," the Sun-Times reports.

Maybe they should have signed a contract first to handle the public relations on spending millions of dollars on public relations.

"We get it. We absolutely get it. We understand that it would seem absurd at a time like this to be using taxpayer funds for this kind of non-essential service," said mayoral press secretary Jacquelyn Heard.

If the services are non-essential, why do we ever need them?

"It's been made abundantly clear to every department that they are not to use these contracts. But I suppose someone could feign ignorance and use them anyway."

Um, is there something in Jackie Heard's eye or did she just let loose a big fat double-wink?

"The door is locked shut on the use of these kinds of firms at this time."

But not later, when nobody is looking.

Gold Medals
Marty Nesbitt, one of Barack Obama's closest friends, has been named to the board of Chicago 2016.

Nesbitt is the president and CEO of The Parking Spot, "a company that owns and operates off-airport parking facilities."

So it's not like he stands to personally gain from the Olympics.

*

This is how Fran Spielman wrote the story:

"Mayor Daley is counting on President Obama to use his worldwide celebrity to carry Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid over the goal line.

"That's why it makes sense to give the president some skin in the game - by putting one of his closest friends on the Chicago 2016 board of directors."

Who is she to say it makes sense?

"There can be a lasting economic impact," Nesbitt says, contrary to what most evidence shows.

"Although the City Council has re-affirmed a $500 million guarantee against operating losses at the 2016 Summer Games, Nesbitt said he's confident Chicago taxpayers will not be left holding the bag.

"'There's sort of a history of U.S. cities pulling off these Olympic events in a way that doesn't cost taxpayers any money,' he said."

Contrary to what most evidence shows.

"We have a decent plan in place that minimizes risk. I don't think there's any risk to taxpayers at all."

Well, there's at least $500 million of "minimal" risk.

Northern Soul, Great Chicago

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Minimal risk.

Posted by Lou at 10:42 AM | Permalink

March 4, 2009

The [Wednesday] Papers

Part two on the Chicago Journalism Town Hall is in.

The Quigley Factor
How he slipped in. What it means..

Straw Stroger
"Last Wednesday was a typical day in the campaign to fill Rahm Emanuel's vacant Fifth Congressional seat: I got mailings from three candidates blasting Cook County Board president Todd Stroger," Ben Joravsky writes.

"From the amount of bile spewed against him, you'd think Stroger was the most powerful and incorrigible figure in local politics.

"He's not even close. Offhand I can think of more than 30 other local politicians with more clout than Stroger, including three mere aldermen - Ed Burke, Richard Mell, and Fritchey's uncle-in-law Bill Banks. Stroger's not even the big man on the county board - that role falls to commissioner John Daley."

Ill 5
I've long said that Abdon Pallasch is one of the city's best reporters - someone whose skills and knowledge I admire - but I'm not sure how well his Sun-Times overlords serve him. Because I know Abdon is better than this.

"Could the race to replace U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel be a dead heat between Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley and labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan?

"The Sun-Times' very unscientifically surveyed 11 voters emerging from four precincts on the Northwest Side and one in Wrigleyville."

Eleven voters? How is that the basis of a news story? I mean, maybe on the Internet . . .

Best of Show
The best places to follow the race have been newcomer Jesse Greenberg's blog and at Progress Illinois.

Jesse has a nice recap of the highlights and lowlights, and also gives PI props.

*

I've updated the Political Odds to reflect the election results.

Kid Cop
"The teen, who likely learned some police methods through a police youth program, drove the squad car for two hours, going out on five assignments, and he even helped on a domestic arrest, holding a suspect's arm as the real officer placed handcuffs on him," the Tribune reports.

"But by the time the teen's crime-fighting spree ended with his arrest at about 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24, seven sworn officers had broken department rules, Police Supt. Jody Weis said Tuesday. The boy was arrested after a sergeant noticed he wasn't wearing a police star."

Maybe those officers should be put through the youth training program; it sounds like it does a pretty good job!

"That the teen drove the squad car particularly galled Weis, since the boy wasn't old enough to drive."

Look, I know it's not funny but . . . how in the world is that not hilarious?

"The teen had actually tried to impersonate a police officer earlier in the day but was rebuffed. At about 6:30 a.m., he tried to check out a radio from the Calumet District, but he was turned away when his name wasn't on the radio request list, police said. But the teen was not arrested at that time."

So, what, the cops just say "Hey, you're not supposed to get a radio. Shoo!"?

Stimulated Response
"Illinois still has not officially submitted a list of shovel-ready road and mass transit projects to the federal government for funding under the economic stimulus package, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday, warning that time is running out," the Tribune reports.

"The law requires us to get the money out the door very quickly," LaHood said. But "we have not received a list from the state or from Chicago."

Yes, well, Daley wants to keep his list secret from the feds too. Just wire the money to the city's Swiss bank account.

"A mayoral aide said Tuesday that the city is 'on track' to receiving stimulus funding."

The aide added that we would be moving shortly and we appreciate your patience.

Message Massage
"The Daley administration on Tuesday abruptly canceled 11 public relations contracts with a $55 million pricetag to drive home the point that taxpayers cannot afford to augment the highly controlled message coming out of City Hall," the Sun-Times reports.

Maybe they should have signed a contract first to handle the public relations on spending millions of dollars on public relations.

"We get it. We absolutely get it. We understand that it would seem absurd at a time like this to be using taxpayer funds for this kind of non-essential service," said mayoral press secretary Jacquelyn Heard.

If the services are non-essential, why do we ever need them?

"It's been made abundantly clear to every department that they are not to use these contracts. But I suppose someone could feign ignorance and use them anyway."

Um, is there something in Jackie Heard's eye or did she just let loose a big fat double-wink?

"The door is locked shut on the use of these kinds of firms at this time."

But not later, when nobody is looking.

Gold Medals
Marty Nesbitt, one of Barack Obama's closest friends, has been named to the board of Chicago 2016.

Nesbitt is the president and CEO of The Parking Spot, "a company that owns and operates off-airport parking facilities."

So it's not like he stands to personally gain from the Olympics.

*

This is how Fran Spielman wrote the story:

"Mayor Daley is counting on President Obama to use his worldwide celebrity to carry Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid over the goal line.

"That's why it makes sense to give the president some skin in the game - by putting one of his closest friends on the Chicago 2016 board of directors."

Who is she to say it makes sense?

"There can be a lasting economic impact," Nesbitt says, contrary to what most evidence shows.

"Although the City Council has re-affirmed a $500 million guarantee against operating losses at the 2016 Summer Games, Nesbitt said he's confident Chicago taxpayers will not be left holding the bag.

"'There's sort of a history of U.S. cities pulling off these Olympic events in a way that doesn't cost taxpayers any money,' he said."

Contrary to what most evidence shows.

"We have a decent plan in place that minimizes risk. I don't think there's any risk to taxpayers at all."

Well, there's at least $500 million of "minimal" risk.

Northern Soul, Great Chicago

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Minimal risk.

Posted by Lou at 8:42 AM | Permalink

The [Chicago Journalism Town Hall] Papers

Previously:
* Chicago Journalism Town Hall Part 1.

* Comments to that piece.

* The [Eric Zorn] Papers.

(Zorn has responded to my response but I haven't had time to read it yet, nor to dig into the coverage by the Reader's Mike Miner and Whet Moser, or several other pieces. I hope to get to those this week.)

-

Here is the second part of my commentary about the Chicago Journalism Town Hall. But first, a summary of I have seen - mostly in Ad Age or via PaidContent.org - in just the last week that are wholly relevant. Consider these while oldstream journalists still angry and recalcitrant about the Internet tell you - without any particular knowledge thereof - that online advertising is dead and nothing makes money on the Web.

1. "Gawker Media Breezes Through February; Other Smaller Sites Faring Well, Too"

"When Gawker Media founder Nick Denton talks about plummeting display-ad revenues - as he has often recently - lots of people listen for clues about the market. So when Denton reports that his network of blogs is doing better than expected in both revenues and traffic during a month that has traditionally been miserable for the indie blog network, it's also bound to cause some people to perk up. Jim Romenesko got ahold of Denton's latest memo to the troops, which notes that the company's ad revenues for 2009 are up by about a fifth over last year so far. Traffic to the entire group of blogs amount to nearly 300 million page views in February, up by 34 percent year-over-year.

"Denton attributes the performance in part to new, larger ad units and the fact that the sales team has far fewer sites to concentrate on. The company successfully spun off four properties last year: Gridskipper, Idolator, Wonkette and Consumerist . . .

"Staying slim may be in Gawker's best interest, according to the WSJ, which highlights the fact that some smaller online publishers are faring relatively well in the face of the ad sales crunch. Local sports blog network SB Nation said traffic rose 15 percent from December to January, even as unique visitors to the sports category fell by 2 percent, per comScore; CEO Jim Bankoff told the Journal that ad revenues were rising by 25 percent each month. Bankoff noted that the model only worked for publishers that had lower overhead. Meanwhile, music gossip site Musictoob has been paying its two editors for less than a week, but it brokered a content-distribution deal with Yahoo Music in February; the Journal says it's strictly a traffic-sharing deal, but the ensuing surge in page views could help Musictoob garner higher CPM prices in the long run."

2. "Earnings: FT Profits From Premium Content As Online Subs Kick In"

"Looks like paid content really does work. FT Group profits rose 13 percent to £195 million ($277 million) in 2008, 'as growth of digital and subscription businesses and strong demand for premium content exceeded the decline in advertising revenues,' said owner Pearson (NYSE: PSO) in its full-year earnings, adding that it 'benefited from the shift towards subscription and service-based revenues.'

"We knew the part-paid access model FT.com introduced in October 2007 had boosted site registrations, but paying subscribers were still said to be flat last year. Now, however, online subs grew nine percent to 109,609 in 2008, on a fivefold rise in non-paying registrations to 966,000."

3. Hearst says it will have to hire more reporters and editors for its Web operations; also that it recognizes problems with its ad sales forces [as discussed here previously].

4. The New York Times launches local blog networks in part to enter new local ad markets previously too small for the paper to trifle with. Google has shown the way by proving how small advertisers can accrue into big dollars.

5. "Interactive media's share of local ad spending will grow, on the other hand, to $32.1 billion in 2013 from $14 billion in 2008, an 18% compound growth rate, BIA said. That would bring interactive media's share of local advertising to 22.2% in 2013 from 9% last year."

6. "SmartMoney Finds Using Fewer Ads Can Boost Click-Through."

7. "Food Network Seeing Huge Growth From Web Offerings: Revamped Content Offerings, Portal-Like Presence Is Luring Marketer Dollars"

"What's the secret ingredient to finding double-digit revenue increases in an almost universally brutal first quarter for media companies? In the case of Food Network, guacamole.

"While many media businesses are stalling, a small group of online publishers appears to be bucking the trend.

Several start-up Web sites such as SB Nation, Seeking Alpha Ltd. and HealthCentral Network Inc., which create and aggregate content about topics like sports, business and health, are recording sharp gains in visitors and - in many cases - revenue. They are outpacing other sites on similar topics through business models that allow them to create niche content with little financial investment."

-

COMMENT: The online operations of newspapers can be the best aggregators out there, and they are best positioned to spin off niche sites and subscription products. As the saying goes, if you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will.

-

Town Hall 2
First, some observations.

*

Supreme irony: I'm the optimist here. I see fields of green, red roses too. All they see is darkness.

*

I'm reminded of a phenomenon cultural theorist Homi Bhabha has written about in another context: Their fear is based in large part on a conscious or unconscious recognition that we know something they don't - as well as what they know. We know twice as much. That's why the oppressor fears the oppressed. The oppressor only understands his world. The oppressed understands the oppressors' world by necessity, but also their own. And that additional knowledge - and insight - makes the oppressors uncomfortable because it can be used against them.

*

The notion that blogs are just about snark is ridiculous. Some of the best blogs out there are tax blogs, accounting blogs . . . blogs run the gamut in style and quality just like everything else. Look at the New York Times's blogs. My favorites there right now are DealBook and Proof.

*

Shortly after I started the Beachwood Reporter, Lewis Lazare began calling me every few months. I had never spoken to him before in my life; at first I thought he was gathering information for a story, but none every appeared. It was odd because nearly every conversation was the same - him telling me about how dumb young people are these days (in part because they weren't familiar with his favorite musicals) and how the Internet has made them so.

I always used to say things like "as opposed to that story in the Sun-Times today about the city's favorite dog names?" or "Just a second, I'm reading the horoscopes in your paper."

Two classics, one of which I've written about before. He once demanded to know how I could criticize the media when I wasn't writing about what a boondoggle the Olympics would be should they be held here. He obviously hadn't been reading me (yet had no problem writing cheerleading the Olympics in print despite what he told me privately.)

The other was his complaint about Facebook. I told him that I used Facebook sparingly but that I liked it and it was really powerful in ways many of us had yet to explore. His complaints continued unabetted until it dawned on me.

"Have you ever seen Facebook?" I asked.

"No."

*

Lazare now has a blog.

*

And by the way, the next journalist who writes a column about how Facebook friends aren't real friends and kids these days apparently have no human contact because they are always on the Internet or texting on their cell phone should be taken out back and flogged with a keyboard.

Do you folks really believe young people - and the rest of us - don't know the difference between real friends and online acquaintances? Do you really believe online friends are replacing human friends? Have you ever found that you can keep in touch with your real friends even more thanks to technology? I'm sure when the phone came out oldtimers complained that friends never saw each other in person anymore.

Please, please, please. Hoariest of hoary.

*

Memo to journalists whining about getting paid: Nobody is paying for your news stories right now. The metro section doesn't make money; it's subsidized by the Travel and Real Estate sections (et. al.) The Reader has always been free and its reporters got paid; same with the Onion. I don't think the fact that those aren't dailies is relevant. But with subscription products created to go along with free online news, a more direct connection can be made between payment and content - if you're willing to stomach the results.

*

By the way, journalists screaming about paid content can feel free to write a check to every website they visit every day. Nobody is holding you back.

*

Let me be clear once again about paid content: The real news should be free. What happened to all that screaming about our public service mission? It's the other areas of a newspaper - and areas still undeveloped - that provide opportunities for subscription products of all kinds. That's just part of the model.

*

I always forget to mention PopMatters of Evanston when citing local online success stories. It has a million unique visitors a month.

Now, the show.

Everyone wants to get on Geoff Dougherty's case about his city room budget, but it was John Callaway who said you could start with six reporters, or up to 12, for $2 million to $3 million. Dougherty merely agreed. What's funny to me is, why would you? Why would you re-create a city room? I mean, is Callaway talking about a digital venture? With six to 12 reporters, you don't really need an office. And again, there are ongoing ventures already. Why start from scratch? But we could. Everyone in that room. Three hundred. That's a newsroom. Of 300. But what's the new model?

*

Uh-oh. Here it is: Let's re-create the City News Bureau!

I love how the answer of oldstream journalists is . . . to go backwards. Let's start a paper!

I mean, huh? A digital City News Bureau? No, I didn't hear anyone mention that. And isn't Dougherty basically running a City News Bureau - with even less well-trained reporters?

And I could never figure out the value of having reporters phone in what desk sergeants just told them? It's a crappy way of training journalists. Why put together something new full of cop briefs?

*

Rob Feder complained about folks at Channel 5 having to re-apply for their jobs. Now, I obviously have an association with the station's website, but I don't have any inside information. I do have an opinion, though: They should re-apply for their jobs! So should everyone in a newsroom these days. The jobs have changed!

If you're not capable of covering your beat as a blog, you might not be qualified for your job anymore. If your forte is editing videotape for broadcast but you are oblivious to formatting for the web, maybe the job isn't for you anymore.

I don't like to see people lose their jobs, and I understand that folks have mortgages to pay and kids in school. But newsroom jobs are no longer tenured positions.

*

Carol Marin says that if you strip out Rich Miller's newsfeeds (and links presumably) . . . what have you got? Wrong! Those are value-added features, but that's not why people go to Miller's blog. They go there for his reporting and his take. His newsletter existed before the blog and made a very, very nice living at it producing something without links or newsfeeds. Now he makes money on both. A lot of money. And by a lot I mean a lot, from what I understand.

*

Ethan Michaeli stood to speak about the digital divide and how ill-served the city's poor are by the media. At first I thought he was off-point, but the more I thought about it, I realized he wasn't. For example, poor people not only cannot afford newspaper subscriptions, but they've been blown off by newspapers who don't like mixing their demographics into the reader profile they like to show advertisers.

The Internet can be a boon to the poor; citywide Wi-Fi and subsidized laptops could go a long way to closing the information divide in our cities.

*

Newspapers act like they haven't been aggregators, but I see papers filled with stories from AP, Bloomberg, McClatchy, and other papers such as the LA Times, the NY Times, etc, and even pieces from online outlets such as Slate. Yes, they pay for syndicated material. But if I want reprint something on my website, I might have to pay for it too.

And AP has always done breaking news. You don't have to publish anything before it's ready. Standards can be upheld. But is the S-T upholding standards with all its Drew Peterson stories? Just where are these standards you speak of?

*

Was this all an exercise to get the Chicago Community Trust to rescue us?

*

Jump aboard. Get together. But instead it's about how to preserve, or go backward. It wouldn't be the end of the world if Tribune Co. came to an end. It might be better for everyone.

*

Neil Tesser, former Reader media critic: "The Internet kills everything!"

I know, it totally kills!

Oh, you don't mean it that way. Um, do you use it, Neil? I mean, this is just ridiculous. The Internet is an explosion of creativity, knowledge transfer, wit, essays and analysis. You might as well say the printing press killed everything. Vaudeville is dead.

*

Sachin Agarwal, the CEO of Dawdle.com, stands up and screams at the panel: "Stop making crap!"

I look at the stories in the papers every day, and only one or two at best have anything to do with democracy and public service. There is a ton of crap in there. Reporters and resources are being wasted.

*

Objectivity. Sigh. Usually a useless argument because nobody defines their terms. But let me just say, the Tribune has a viewpoint. The view of moderate suburban Republicans. The view of editors who insist a trend exists but doesn't, or who call up stories according to what has happened to their families and blocks. The Sun-Times had David Radler reaching his hand into the paper, cheerleading the war and promoting his pet interests. Reporters stood by. The Sun-Times in particular has had a view on how great the Olympics will be; both papers have a view that it's not a big deal that Jody Weis is defying a federal court order, because I don't see that story on the front page.

The point about objectivity isn't in how stories are reported, but how they are pursued. You let the chips fall where they may in pursuit of the reporting; reporting can lead to conclusions. You don't give equal weight to everything everybody says, because the reporting doesn't support the idea that gravity is non-existent.

Now, the idea that news should have a point of view that admits bias and that we should go back to political pamphleteering is, in my view, nonsense. We have way too much punditry and ideologically driven "journalism" already. But to equate that approach with journalism on the Internet is also wrongheaded.

CLTV's Carlos Hernandez Gomez complains that you need "objective" journalism instead of folks only consuming ideologically driven news (Bill O'Reilly) that only reinforces your existing viewpoint.

Yes, but the example he gives is cable-TV, not the Internet. So let's not blame the Internet.

But wait - Rich Gordon of Northwestern (and many others) say studies show that those who read ideologically based political blogs actually have more knowledge about the opposing side's arguments than those who don't. Why? Because they link to and debate those very arguments.

But even if this wasn't true, I'd like to know if there was a time when those who subscribed to The Nation also subscribed to The National Review.

I'm not a big fan of ideologically driven blogs, but the level of information and discussion on them is many times higher than what daily newspapers even begin to approach. Daily Kos posts the daily schedule for Congress, for godsakes. These are engaged readers - and they read the mainstream press, if only to poke holes in its work.

The last presidential campaign was the best example of how off the mainstream media is in this arena; if you weren't following the blogs you weren't really following the election, because that's where the debate - both strategic and on issues - played out.

*

And let me say that Bill O'Reilly is right when he says most critics haven't seen his show. I don't like O'Reilly as a person, and sometimes he says ridiculous things, but he's a broadcast talent who puts together an interesting show and his own views are far less rigid and more iconoclastic than he's usually given credit for by those - including mainstream journalists and so-called open-minded intellectual liberals - who opt for the caricature they've heard about instead of paying attention to the real thing and deciding for themselves.

*

Chris Robling stands to ask for responsibility in the new media world, in which mistakes get repeated over and over.

Um, have you ever tried to get a newspaper to write a correction?

And their mistakes live on forever. On the web they get corrected pretty quickly, they are easily written into stories or signalled to readers, and it's usually done with some degree of immediacy. The Jayson Blair saga taught us how rare it is for readers to actually point out egregious errors in print; on the Internet your in-box fills up pretty quick.

But responsibility is about responsibility, not the medium.

*

Barb Iverson: The Internet has the self-correcting mechanisms of transparency and triangulation.

*

Let me ask you a question: Do newspaper websites do any better a job correcting their errors than, say, online-only publications?

I didn't think so.

*

And let's talk about standards and responsibility. To me, ethical standards are ethical standards regardless of the medium. Not so for newspapers. For example, letters to the editor require a real, verifiable name. But right next to those letters they'll print anonymous comments e-mailed to the paper. Same with anonymous comments allowed on newspaper blogs. Guess what? Political strategists (and marketers) go on your sites all the time as anonymous commenters and deceive readers.

And why in the world (paging Eric Zorn) would you allow click polls? Please.

When I was at Chicago magazine writing the online weekly media column "Press Box," I had to beg for my column, which often ran to 3,000 words, to be edited. I thought it particularly important because so many other journalists would be ready to pounce on every misplaced comma. But I also wanted the safety net of an editor, as every journalist ought to. It was a running battle to get edited. "There's a different standard on the Internet," my old-school magazine editor told me.

Not to me there isn't.

And there you have another supreme irony: I'm an evangelist for Internet journalism but I think I'm the one trying to uphold standards more than many oldstream journalists (again, paging Eric Zorn; or maybe I'll just post some anonymous comments to his blog).

*

A fellow website entrepreneur's comment to me when the subject of micropayments came up: "Just because they read something in Time!"

Oh, how many times reporters have said that about their editors upon getting a totally lame story assignment.

*

A woman stands up to castigate journalists for being so self-absorbed. She's from the ad/biz side, and points out all the other folks in newspaperland who are losing their jobs too. She's right. It's not just about us and our stories; it's about an entire apparatus falling apart.

She also issues the quote of the day: "Rockers make it rock, but roadies make it roll."

*

Susan Berger, contributor to the New York Times, complains that we don't remember Watergate. Huh?

We remember the Iraq War! Where was your paper on that?

Why is there an assumption that public affairs and investigative journalism isn't on the Web and/or won't move to the Web . . . as well as the assumption that those stories are well-read when presented in seas of gray on newsprint?

Watergate would have killed on the Web! It would have been much better. And maybe Berger doesn't remember, but the Washington Post stood alone on that story for a long time. On the Web, a lot more of America would have known a lot more about that story long before it did.

*

Berger: "The public thinks [news is] free."

The public certainly doesn't think professional journalists work for free. So what does this mean, exactly? If content on the Web is free, what do journalists care if their salary is drawn from revenues other than subscription fees? Newspaper reporters for years largely derived their salaries from department store advertising. Again, no one was paying you for your stories. That's why they had to put crossword puzzles and comic strips in the paper.

*

A lot of delusion out there. It wasn't your killer content that made newspapers so profitable; it was monopoly ad markets and near-monopoly content markets. I always thought the folks at the Reader were under the mistaken impression for years that they were insanely profitable because of their (mostly) interminably boring and irrelevant cover stories when in fact it was the listings and classifieds that made the paper such a financial success. When they lost the market on those things, the financial edifice crumbled.

*

Panelists are confused about who the guy from dawdle.com is. It's not a news site and he's not an advertising guy, he's an advertiser. He's explaining the Gawker model of less cluttered advertising but it's in vain.

"They don't know what CPMs are," I say under my breath.

*

Tran Ha, editor of RedEye, says her paper's business model is working.

In a very satisfying group moment, the whole crowd hisses.

*

But.

Look, I hate RedEye but you shouldn't confuse it with being a newspaper. It's a commuter entertainment sheet - not a
terrible thing to have in your company's portfolio. I wish it was done a lot better, but it is what it is.

*

While discussion of this town hall rages through the blogosphere, the print and broadcast worlds remain silent. Where do you have to go, journalists, to get your news about this extraordinary event? The Internet!

*

What was the goal of the town hall? In my view, it lacked an objective. If it was about saving journalism in Chicago, maybe it should have been a call for proposals. Maybe it should have been an effort to bind us together in a new venture - or to bind the efforts already going on. Maybe it should have been the formation of a new non-profit organization, or the founding of a new news operation. But if that were to occur, it would have been an admission that the traditional news shops aren't or won't or can't do the job. Instead, it was an effort to turn back the clock or freeze time and save the old. If the reporters there had been covering the event and it had been another industry at stake, their stories probably would have focused on the refusal of labor and management to move forward, upgrade quality, remake themselves for the modern economy, use new technology, retrain and recruit talent, all the things reporters routinely write about other industries - but which they never seem to apply to themselves.

*

A day after I first wrote that, I see this on the Trib's editorial page:

"Yes, employment and retail sales are down, so state tax revenues are dropping. But that's no problem! Illinois lawmakers set aside billions of dollars when revenues were rising during all the fat years. They also reformed how Springfield funds education, pensions and health care. Owing to that skilled stewardship by our legislators and governors, we squirreled away enough acorns to spare us any talk whatsoever of tax increases during this recessi . . .

"Oops . . . wait . . . sorry. That's the situation we should be in today: with ample savings from the high-revenue years to carry us through a difficult time."

COMMENT: Why is it so wrong to similarly criticize the newspaper industry for its similarly poor stewardship?

Posted by Lou at 2:59 AM | Permalink

March 3, 2009

The [Tuesday] Papers

I didn't get a chance to write about the race to replace Rahm Emanuel in the 5th District as much as I would have liked to, nor to really research the primary candidates as much as I would have liked. But I have a pretty decent idea of who I would vote for if I lived in the district: Tom Geoghegan.

I find it fascinating that the unions are by-and-large supporting Sara Feigenholtz and John Fritchey when no one has been more vital and loyal to the cause than Geoghegan.

I find it predictable yet distressing that the Obama machine hasn't rallied behind true change and the idea that you have to depart from choosing the same old folks if you want different results.

I find it sad that the traditional media still doesn't strategize about how to cover campaigns and virtually ignores issues altogether. Someone like Geoghegan might have caught fire as a breath of fresh air.

Be that as it may, I will say that I've almost been persuaded that Mike Quigley ought to be the choice. The reason I prefer Geoghegan, though, is that he's exactly the kind of innovative thinker we need in Congress. I'm not sure that's the place where Quigley's considerable skills are best put to work - though I'm not with those who try to argue that we need him on the Cook County Board to keep fighting the good fight there. Give him a break!

If only Quigley would consider, say, running for mayor.

I came into this race with a much more favorable view of John Fritchey than I have coming out of this race. I think he had a shot and I think he lost it.

Patrick O'Connor is a hack and would be the worst outcome. I'm sure I would find comfort in the Green primary if I lived in the district and would consider voting there to once again support the destruction of the two-party stranglehold. I haven't seen any reason to vote for any of the Republican candidates

I appreciate Sara Feigenholtz's emphasis on health care issues, but I think she's much more of a conventional, business-as-usual pol - like Fritchey - than I thought going in. And her attacks on Quigley have been out-of-bounds. (Also, someone please ask Sara if she thinks Barack Obama was wrong to abet Todd Stroger's election.) Still, if I was a betting man, I'd put my money on her. She seems to have emerged from the pack.

G-Man
I think I've read all of Geoghegan's books and I highly recommend them. I've only spoken to him once, and it wasn't pleasant. But we all have our bad days.

I was writing a story about McCormick Place when I was at Chicago magazine and, inevitably, I kept hearing stories about how corrupt the unions there were. Some of the stories were true, but I wanted a deeper understanding of the issue and, perhaps, an alternative view, so I called Geoghegan. He was very impatient with me with no inclination to provide a perspective, other than noting that union leaders are often installed by business interests or pols with other agendas.

I was disappointed with how short he was with me, but if he was suspicious about a Chicago magazine writer professing an interest in labor issues, well, that's not unreasonable.

Chicago Sports Survey
Theirs and ours.

Town Hall Redux
Many readers have asked me where my promised Part 2 about the Chicago Journalism Town Hall is. It's almost done! I've been slowed down by a million different things coming at me at once, but I've written up my notes from the second half of the town hall and I also have some interesting links to share about Internet business models and recent news thereof. It will be up soon. And then this column will return to its old snappy self too.

*

Also, I will be appearing with Michael Miner at the Billy Goat on Thursday night at the Chicago Headline Club's "burger night" event. First beer is on the Headline Club; start time is 7:30 p.m. 5:30 p.m., runs to about 7:30 p.m.

Campaign Inoperable
"Even though President Barack Obama has repeatedly pledged to ban congressional earmarks, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has 16 such projects, worth about $8.5 million, in the bill the Senate is considering this week," McClatchy Newspapers reports.

Yes, well.

"[I]n his address to Congress last week, [Obama] boasted how the economic stimulus package was 'free of earmarks'."

It was free of earmarks only because pet spending projects were the substance of the bill; there was no need to append anything. They might as well have called it The American Earmark Renewal Bill.

"By the end of this week, however, [Obama's] likely to sign a separate $400 billion spending plan that keeps most domestic programs funded through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2009. It's a measure that contains about 9,000 earmarks."

Obama also repeatedly pledged that he was going to go through the federal budget line-by-line to eliminate waste. Isn't this what got the Republicans in trouble in 2006?

Q Dog
After seeming to hit his stride, Gov. Pat Quinn has stumbled again on Roland Burris, backing down from his call for the magic man to resign. "If he doesn't accept my advice, we have to move on," Quinn said.

Why in the world would he accept your advice if you aren't going to press the issue?

Lesson to future pols: Just wait it out and scare the hell out of everybody by casting ridiculous racial aspersions. It works.

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Late-Night Train Ride Through Snowstorm, Chicago

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The Beachwood Tip Line: All abuzz.

Posted by Lou at 10:15 AM | Permalink

Surveying Chicago Sports

The Sun-Times is running a Chicago Sports Fan Survey, so I thought I'd make my choices known here.

1. Who is your favorite Chicago athlete?
A) Derrick Rose
B) Carlos Zambrano
C) Mark Buehrle
D) Brian Urlacher
E) Patrick Kane
F) Other

My Choice: Mike Fontenot. The M-Dog. Mighty Mike. Mini-Mike. Ryan Theriot is a close second.

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2. Which team will be next to win a championship?
A) Bears
B) Bulls
C) Blackhawks
D) Cubs
E) White Sox

My Choice: The Windy City Rollers.

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3. Which Chicago-area college team is your favorite?
A) DePaul
B) Illinois
C) Loyola
D) NIU
E) Northwestern
F) Notre Dame
G) UIC

My Choice: The Robert Morris College hockey team.

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4. Who is the best Chicago newcomer?
A) Derrick Rose
B) Kris Versteeg
C) Milton Bradley
D) Matt Forte
E) Carlos Quentin

My Choice: Jeff Samardzija

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5. Rank your favorite teams.

My Choice: No.

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6. What is your favorite sports-radio station?
A) WSCR
B) WMVP

My Choice: There's really no need to choose, we need both.

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7. What is your favorite local sports-radio show?

My Choice: This survey is starting to bore me. You couldn't come up with better questions than this?

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8. Who is the city's best play-by-play voice?

My Choice: Pat Hughes if he could be paired with Steve Stone.

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9. Who is the city's best color analyst?

My Choice: Darrin Jackson or Steve Stone, hmmm . . .

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10. What is your favorite Chicago sports website?

My Choice: Oh, wait, they didn't ask anything about websites and blogs.

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I will not be answering stupid team questions like what the Bears' greatest need is or if I approve of the job Lou Piniella is doing.

Questions Not Asked
* Best sports blogger
* Best Chicago sports website
* Best Chicago columnist
* Do you ever watch sportscasters on local TV news shows?
* How smart is Jim Litke?
* Has Wrigley Field already been irretrievably ruined?
* Is Kenny Williams smarter than he thinks he is or too smart for his own good?
* Most likely to serve a suspension this season: Zambrano or Bradley?

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Send us your answers - or your questions. Please include a real name if you wish to be considered for publication.

Posted by Lou at 9:12 AM | Permalink

Political Odds

For entertainment purposes only. And office pools. Updated as events warrant.

The chance that . . .

Sara Feigenholtz wins the 5th: 40 percent. Reversal with Fritchey since last posting; money and organization likely to carry her. RESULT: Fell to third just behind Fritchey. SEIU and Emily's List didn't pan out; fighting with Fritchey probably hurt.

John Fritchey wins the 5th: 30 percent. Reformer reputation hit badly; still has portions of Machine backbone behind him. RESULT: Finishes just above Feigenholtz. Tainted rep hurts; regrets for running?

Mike Quigley wins the 5th: 20 percent. Could slide in as front-runners tear each other apart. RESULT: Exactly what happened.

Patrick O'Connor wins the 5th: 5 percent. Daley doesn't have Tomczak's army anymore. RESULT: Thought he could be the one to slide in, but writing was on the wall when Fritchey wiped him out at slating.

Tom Geoghegan wins the 5th: 3 percent. He should but he won't. RESULT: Backing by luminaries would have made him an instant national figure and curiosity, but the media wasn't interested and he didn't have an organization.

Charlie Wheelan wins the 5th: 1 percent. Not this time, but could have a future . RESULT: Will sell more of his next book.

Victor Forys wins the 5th: 1 percent. United Polish front breaks through. RESULT: Low turnout not low enough for Polish strategy to work.

column_pol_odds.gif

Todd Stroger wins re-election: 40 percent. Will Obama endorse?

Forrest Claypool wins county board prez: 20 percent. Tough challenge awaits from Preckwinkle.

Toni Preckwinkle wins county board prez: 20 percent. Can she run countywide? Probably.

Paul Vallas wins county board prez: 10 percent. Running as Republican looks gimmicky; Machine out to crush him.

Tony Peraica wins county board prez: 1 percent. Has worn out his limited welcome.

Pat Quinn wins re-election: 30 percent. Up five ticks on strong early showing, but stumbling on Burris.

Lisa Madigan is next governor: 30 percent. Down five points on Quinn's early folksy charm and earnest reformishness. How will she show she's a better choice?

Dan Hynes is our next governor: 5 percent. Has to be looking elsewhere.

Mark Kirk is our next governor: 5 percent. Looking at Burris seat instead.

Roland Burris wins re-election: 50 percent. Up to Machine.

Alexi Giannoulias wins Burris's seat: 25 percent. Will Obama back? Dems like his money, but what else? African-American vote will not follow.

Jan Schakowsky wins Burris's seat: 15 percent. A white male won't get through the primary, but maybe a woman will. May sit it out.

Bill Daley wins Burris's seat: 1 percent. Would take massive bullying effort and suitcases of money to black ministers. Meaning it's still possible.

Jesse Jackson Jr. wins Burris's seat: 10 percent. The best choice, but would take strategic and public relations miracle at this point.

Danny Davis wins Burris's seat: 1 percent. Wanted [clean] appointment; won't run.

Somebody not discussed yet wins Burris's seat: 20 percent. Room for a fresh face; and I don't mean Cheryle Jackson.

Mark Kirk wins Burris's seat: 40 percent. Only Burris fiasco has made it possible.

Dick Durbin wins re-election: 50 percent. Blood in the water for first time.

Blago book is a best-seller: 99 percent. For at least one week.

Blago finishes it before he is indicted: 0 percent. Will be timed for trial.

Blago is indicted by Easter: 99 percent. That's the plan.

Patti Blag is indicted by Easter: 65 percent. She could turn state's [bleep]in' evidence.

Richard M. Daley is lying: 50 percent. If his lips are moving.

Jody Weis lasts another year: 35 percent. It's a disaster. But now we know why Huberman didn't get the job.

Huberman being groomed for mayor: 35 percent. Not Daley's style to groom.

Chicago lands the 2016 Olympics: 25 percent. The IOC loves pay-to-play, but transportation plan, funding and venue arrangements still a little shifty.

Obama wins re-election: 66 percent. Re-election campaign underway; gorge on earmarks now before they have to be disavowed again.

Obama commutes George Ryan's sentence: 50 percent. Application still active; hey, he won't pursue war criminals, might want to turn the page.

Obama commutes Tony Rezko's sentence: 35 percent. Sometime within the next eight years? Why not?

Joe Biden resigns after the mid-term elections: 75 percent. He's already bored out of his skull; Obama can choose successor.

Propositions
Over/Under on number of Daleyites still to be named to high-level posts in the Obama administration: 6.5.

Over/Under on the number of times Michelle Obama's horrid fashion sense will be compared to Jackie O's in the next six months: 34,298.

Over/Under on the average number of questions Obama will take in press conferences in his first year: 4.5.

Over/Under on City Hall scandals in 2009 that "might be the one that breaks Daley's back" but won't be: 3.

Over/Under on the number of times Fran Spielman will use the phrase "Daley's Olympic dream" in 2009: 200.

Over/Under on how many issues Daley accuses his opponents of being racists on before the next election: 2.

Over/Under on how many more times Todd Stroger will try to explain that it's the media's fault: 3 times a week until he's out of office.

Over/Under on Hired Truck convictions: 51. Number moves south, too much under action. So far, 49 have been charged; 46 have been convicted; and one fell off a horse and died before trial.

Posted by Lou at 8:29 AM | Permalink

March 2, 2009

The [Monday] Papers

PROGRAMMING NOTE 10:51 A.M.: I don't know if I'm going to get a Papers column out today, I'm just swamped. In the meantime, though, here are some other new Beachwood offerings that kick a lot of butt.

* Bin Dive's Five Favorite Cover Songs. As determined by our very own Scott Buckner.

He sets his piece up this way:

"The 1960s was especially littered with the corpses of gone-nowhere originals like The Olympics' 'Good Lovin'' or The Top Notes' 'Twist and Shout' being turned into monster chart-toppers by bands like The Young Rascals, The Isley Brothers and The Beatles. Or if you were Carl Perkins, you were waking up pretty much every other weekend to find out someone was scabbing your rockabilly songs like Blue Suede Shoes' and 'Summertime Blues' into records that would eclipse your own.

"On the other hand, it's not hard to imagine Tennessee Ernie Ford going to bed every night praying ABBA might figure out some way to turn 'Sixteen Tons' into the next 'Dancing Queen."

* In SportsMonday, our very own Jim Coffman pleads with the Trib's Rick Morrissey to stop phoning it in, lauds ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, and updates the fortunes of the Hawks and Bulls.

* In TrackNotes, we had to add our Triple Crown Trail watch late if you want to catch back up with it. The bulk of Thomas Chambers' piece this week is about online betting. Mmm, online betting . . .

* Getting Pregnant & Insurance Lizards. The latest news from Pueblo, Colorado.

* Getting Roland To Go. How the cool kids in the Senate can chase him out.

* Universal Sports and the Digital Conversion. It's Scott Buckner day at the Beachwood.

"For anyone either too poor or too Fuck-The-Man because there's something fundamentally wrong with Comcast charging the gross domestic product of Peru for basic cable, an advantage to the analog TV conversion is the dozen or so additional digital channels you get absolutely free. This is a welcome development for anyone with a lot of useless UHF channels because you don't speak Spanish or Korean," Scott writes.

"Among the digital spawn is NBC's Universal Sports on channel 5.3, which is pretty much the free-TV equivalent of ESPN2. This is fine by me, because ESPN's mother channel doesn't air neat stuff like World's Strongest Man competitions from Iceland. This week, Universal Sports was busy covering a whole slew of World Cup events like bobsledding, luge, and skiing from Bulgaria and Slovenia. Defend Summer Olympic events like javelin throwing and pole vaulting all you want, but they don't hold a candle to a ski jumper floating breathtakingly-perfect through the air only to land with the style and grace of someone getting pushed off the end of a pier during a Red Bull Flugtag."

Buckner, by the way, recently won a 2009 Farmer's Almanac for prevailing in our Super Bowl Halftime Bracket competition.

He and runners-up Jeanette Pesnikov and Kelly the Counter also each received foldable cardboard pickle hats. I'll try to get a photo posted soon.

* Wow, I just noticed that my NBCChicago.com post on Friday called "Dumb White People" has gotten 47 comments - some from people who want me fired! It's a different audience over there.

* I tried to analyze the permutations of voting blocs in the 5th District over there as well, in a post called "Slicing Up The 5th." Not quite sure if I nailed that one, I was hoping to describe the race more as a serious of math equations, but the research involved in dividing likely voters into their various segments was just too much to do so early in the morning - and for what they pay me.

* "Chicago's Muslim Banking Solution" isn't the smoothest thing I've written, but in doing the research I discovered that Devon Bank is pretty frickin' interesting. I think there's a larger point here to be made about being more creative in thinking about mortgages and lending.

* I'm glad that Pat Quinn is talking up the governor's mansion. Check out the photo galleries and such.

The Weekend Desk Report
We sleep all week just to make sure we've got fresh eyes come Saturday.

Market Update
Hey, not all the news is bad these days; Losing Shirts posted soaring profits this week and analysts predict a possible boom in the Pot to Piss In sector.

Go Blue Line
Mayor Richard Daley this week made a controversial move, naming Richard Rodriguez head of the CTA. The hiring already has its critics, many claiming he's not entirely on the level. For his part, R-Rod says he plans to completely overhaul the transportation system, even if it means recruiting a whole new set of riders.

Senior Class
R-Rod was unlikely to get much help from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn in retaining his senior class. The governor this week backed down from a plan to restrict the free-rides program majestically championed by his predecessor, Ramrod Blagojevich. Quinn stated he knows of at least one Illinois senior who still needs to get home.

March Badness
It's not quite Selection Sunday, but we at the Beachwood Reporter Weekend Desk feel we can confidently predict two of the top seeds in the 2009 NCAA Bastardball Tournament. Perennial favorite Robert Mugabe looks set to head this year's Despot section. He'll face stiff competition from a Financiers bracket overloaded with talent. While it's a tough call to pick a front-runner, we're pretty sure no one at AIG has bankrupted a freaking Nobel Peace Laureate recently, so we're going with Bernie Madoff.

En-Suing Crisis
Finally this week, it seems no one is unaffected by the worsening economy. Even the once-ferocious dinosaurs are taking a bath.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Superbad.

Posted by Lou at 10:50 AM | Permalink

What I Watched Last Night: Universal Sports And The Digital Conversion

For anyone either too poor or too Fuck-The-Man because there's something fundamentally wrong with Comcast charging the gross domestic product of Peru for basic cable, an advantage to the analog TV conversion is the dozen or so additional digital channels you get absolutely free. This is a welcome development for anyone with a lot of useless UHF channels because you don't speak Spanish or Korean.

Among the digital spawn is NBC's Universal Sports on channel 5.3, which is pretty much the free-TV equivalent of ESPN2. This is fine by me, because ESPN's mother channel doesn't air neat stuff like World's Strongest Man competitions from Iceland. This week, Universal Sports was busy covering a whole slew of World Cup events like bobsledding, luge, and skiing from Bulgaria and Slovenia. Defend Summer Olympic events like javelin throwing and pole vaulting all you want, but they don't hold a candle to a ski jumper floating breathtakingly-perfect through the air only to land with the style and grace of someone getting pushed off the end of a pier during a Red Bull Flugtag.

A big chunk of Universal Sport's Saturday coverage was devoted to curling, an activity that was able to roll finesse, cutthroat strategy, turn-on-a-dime heartbreak, and a whole lot of shouting by people with Minnesota accents into an Olympic sport. Much like televised bowling or golf, how fascinated you can become with a slow-moving sport where a single match can last up to two-and-a-half hours is often proportional to how bored or stoned you might be.

If you're unfamiliar with curling, imagine playing bocce ball or shuffleboard while freezing your ass off in some cavernous indoor ice arena. Unlike other sports, curling can be enjoyed by anyone of any age without having to worry much about blowing out a knee or being in great physical shape. Like bocce, curling is a social sport imported by foreigners who weren't satisfied enough with a simple game of Jarts. This has been a godsend to the people of Minnesota and upper Wisconsin, where social activity during the dead of winter is limited to drinking and whatever goes on in ice fishing shacks. Best of all, curling - just like ice fishing or darts or snowmobiling - has unlimited potential to become more interesting when you're drunk, provided you don't do something stupid like fall through the ice of a frozen lake and drown.

Saturday's live coverage of the women's and men's 2010 Winter Olympic Team trials originated from the Broomfield Event Center, a 10,000-seat ice arena near Denver whose pebbled curling lanes were emblazoned with the slogan "amazing awaits." This is something of an overstatement because, really, curling isn't all that amazing. Impressive maybe, but not amazing. Amazing is what you get when some guy on skis goes cartwheeling down a slope like a rag doll at 70 miles an hour without ending up dead.

Still, I imagine Saturday's do-or-die matches between Team Lank vs. Team McCormick (women) and Team Schuster vs. Team George (men) were pretty amazing for the 15,000 fans and family who spent all week clanking cowbells and blowing big plastic bugles that sound like a moose calling for someone to get its hoof unstuck from a snow fence. Universal Sport's man down on the ice was Bill Morehouse, a pleasant-enough fellow who spent a lot of time demonstrating that ice-arena lighting flatters absolutely nobody.

Much like bocce, the object of curling is to get your stone closest to the center of a target 93 feet away, either by finessing your way to it using spin (making the stone "curl") or by bashing your opponent's stones out of the way. Two members of the team "sweep" the ice in front of the moving stone by scrubbing away like madmen with brooms which look more like big lint brushes or something you'd use to clean your car windshield. Why it hasn't occurred to anyone to replace ice skates with curling shoes - they let you glide forward and backward but grip tight when you walk - is beyond me. The noticeable difference between Saturday's curlers was their on-ice conduct, which revolves around screaming things like "Yep yep yep!!" and "Harrrrd!!" and "Hurry!!" at the sweepers at the top of their lungs. While curler John Shuster was content to sound like the lead singer for Gwar every now and then, the women were constantly drowning out the color commentary as if they were being possessed by whatever demon is in charge of orgasmic rapture.

The commercial breaks included a spot for the Slap Chop - a bitchin' little dicer-grater perfect for working out anger-management issues - starring Vince the ShamWow! guy. Vince is without equal the greatest commercial huckster ever to deliver the line "You're gonna love my nuts."

I had other things to do, so I didn't see the dramatic end to the men's contest, but I did catch one of the women in Team McCormick's group-hug victory celebration get caught up in the moment and yell, "Motherfuckerrrrrrrrs!" Granted, it wasn't the unbridled Brandi Chastain, but it was a neat-enough moment of spontaneous combustion you'd never hear on ABC's Wide World of Sports, proving once again that digital is better than analog.

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See what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.

Posted by Lou at 9:27 AM | Permalink

SportsMonday: Bulls, Hawks and Bill Simmons

Taking in the state of the Bulls, Hawks, Sherron Collins and his Jayhawks, plus a few words about sportswriting, including Rick Morrissey, Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons.

That was quite a comeback for the Bulls on Saturday. Down 17 with 5:51 to go, they eventually beat Houston 105-102. And so they saved themselves from what would have been, even for this team, an unbelievably galling collapse after they started the week with one of their best wins of the season. That convincing Tuesday triumph over the very good Orlando Magic was followed by lousy efforts against the not-so-hot New Jersey Nets the next night and the woeful Washington Wizards on Friday. When the Bulls fell behind early against the Rockets, and then couldn't seem too muster any kind of difference-making defense as the deficit stretched out early in the fourth quarter, a three-game losing streak loomed. But then Brad Miller found a way to consistently front Yao Ming in the final half-dozen minutes at one end, throwing a wrench into the Houston offense, and Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon heated up at the other.

As for the big picture, well, one is reminded again that there is clearly a very good chance the Bulls will let Gordon walk as a free agent at the end of the season. Before they do we sure would appreciate someone filling in fans on who will score the clutch points besides Rose. John Salmons has proven he can score but he certainly hasn't proven he can score in the clutch. When Gordon scores, this Bulls team has a real good chance to win. When he doesn't, it doesn't.

The big news of the night appeared to be Luol Deng suffering a serious injury. That possibility caused one to consider near-future scenarios. On the bright side, Deng settling in on the sideline would simplify end games for the Bulls. It would mean they would almost be forced to wrap up competitive games with Derrick Rose at the point, Ben Gordon at shooting guard and Salmons at small forward (alternating with Joakim Noah as much as possible in an offense-defense pattern with Tyrus Thomas sliding from the 4 on offense to the 3 on defense). Whoops. Late Sunday the word is out that Deng's leg injury was not as serious as originally believed and that he could be back at practice Monday. I still say go with Salmons at the 3 as much as possible in crunch time.

On the Ice
How 'bout those Hawks! (I think I've used this line a few times now but if the alliteration fits . . . ) With the reassuring 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings early Sunday heading off a potential losing streak (0-2-1 in the previous three games) before it got any traction, they head into action this week seven points ahead of Vancouver in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They've also got a game in hand on the Canucks.

Defenseman Duncan Keith scored the second goal and was his usual stellar self. Keith does an amazing job of turning opposing threats into Hawk counter-attacks. He not only breaks up opposing rushes, he consistently either carries the puck out of harms way himself or makes just the right pass to send Hawk forwards back on their way to the other end. And Marty Havlat continued his recent run of excellence by first-assisting on the Hawks' final two goals, including a beautiful cross-slot pass in the final minute that Dave Bolland had only to flip into the net for the clincher.

Update: Sherron Collins
The budding best player ever from the North Side was his usual dominant self after Kirk Hinrich's number was retired in a pre-game ceremony in Lawrence, Kan. on Sunday. The junior point guard scored 25 points and added beautiful assists-plus during the critical run as the Jayhawks moved a step closer to a shocking Big 12 title (they won the national championship last year but lost all key contributors except Collins, a 5-11 former three-sport star at Crane High). I define an assist-plus as a pass that doesn't just lead to a basket, it leads to a layup or a dunk, and Collins had several of those as Kansas outscored Missouri 18-1 early in the first half of an eventual 30-point-plus thrashing. He had six assists overall. The Jayhawks win the Big 12 title outright over highly favored Oklahoma among others with two more victories.

About Sportswriting
Bill Simmons stands (or I suppose sits) alone. The Sports Guy on ESPN.com is the best American sportswriter and it isn't close (Michael Lewis might give him a run if he would stop being distracted by inconsequential things like America's economic crisis - come on Michael!). Simmons might even be the world's best sportswriter but there is a wee bit of the sporting world with which I am not terribly familiar (I hear they really love soccer everywhere else - I only like soccer; and here's another part of world sports I don't quite connect with - can you identify the second-most popular participatory sport in the world? You won't - don't waste time trying - it is badminton, slightly popular in Asia apparently and the latest estimates state that billions of people live there).

Let's clear up one thing right off the bat: Simmons is a sportswriter, not some other title some dimwitted print dinosaur might use to try to put him down. And the best thing about his work is that there is more information in a typical column written for ESPN.com - he writes two a week on average - than in all of the Trib's Rick Morrissey's columns put together so far this year. Actually it's more like 10 times as much. And while I'm here, hey Rick, either stop mailing it in, get your ass out there and report on columns - like, say, attending a Public League boys basketball game rather than sitting there in your ivory Tribune tower and opining ignorantly about whether draconian limits on who is allowed to spectate is a good idea or not - or quit. You disrespect the job you're so lucky to have (jealous? Me? Au contraire mon frere) with that sort of substandard effort. You could also maybe make a phone call or two at least once in a while to perhaps back up some of the assertions in other columns with, I don't know, maybe the opinion of a few sources on the inside? Morrissey has made the trip to spring training week and weighed in with a timely piece about Milton Bradley's hot temper on Sunday. OK, so maybe that story had already been done, last weekend, but . . . at least there were lots of self-serving, selfish quotes from Bradley.

I will acknowledge I sing Simmons' praises in part because my primary sports passions synch up nicely with his, especially this time of year. I love well-played basketball and so does he (they play the best basketball in the NBA by the way, as opposed to major college basketball, where the Illini, to just name one grim slog of a team, have totaled 33 and 36 points in losses in the last month and yet stand second in their conference even after Sunday's loss). Simmons writes passionately and almost endlessly at times about the National Basketball Association, including his most recent piece in which he breaks down the game's shaky finances (strangely enough not a word about this in either Chicago sports section; of course, they'd have to cover the NBA in order to write stories about what's going on there).

It has been fascinating to look at Simmons paired up with Rick Reilly on ESPN.com. Reilly, who won a bunch of national Sportswriter of the Year awards before he bailed on Sports Illustrated to sign with ESPN, is overmatched despite Simmons having scaled back his writing pace a bit of late to finish a book. Reilly is still capable of greatness (like a column this week about a kid meeting John Elway), but he's no Simmons.

And Reilly's been involved in an absolute fiasco of late. Folks at ESPN "stole" Simmons' idea about a Mt. Rushmore of sports (you don't really steal an idea from a guy who works at the same media outlet do you? Still, Simmons has acknowledged irritation felt at the lack of at least an acknowledgement from the guys who put together a recent run of SportsCenter bits focused on this idea that was clearly Simmons' first). Reilly looked like a dope as he went on SportsCenter time and again leading up to the finale last week. Oh by the way, the sports Mt. Rushmore ended up being all about Chicago, "memorializing" Walter Payton, Michael Jordan, Ernie Banks and Mike Ditka. If those were the four guys most deserving of memorializing this way, you'd have thought we'd have won more championships.

Simmons' work is also chock full of humor. The latest column is certainly a classic as far as that goes. He also breaks down baseball in the summer and football in the winter, and while his stuff is a little heavy on the Red Sox and the Patriots at times, it isn't like those teams haven't been worth of attention the last half-dozen years-plus.

Simmons' report from the NBA All-Star weekend is full of great stuff about the state of the league, and big-time pro sports in general. And if you hang in there long enough (i.e. read the whole thing), you'll find a bit of information about the future off the NHL that is absolutely unbelievable. Enjoy.

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See also: Milton Bradley Madness.

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Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday. Comments are welcome.

Posted by Lou at 8:14 AM | Permalink

Getting Pregnant & Insurance Lizards

1. HELP FOR COUPLES HAVING TROUBLE GETTING PREGNANT
Conceiving a child can be difficult, even for couples for whom conditions are just right. If you haven't become pregnant after being off birth control for a year, it may be time to pinpoint the problem. The Reproductive Health package of free publications from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Women's Health and the Federal Citizen Information Center is a good place to start.

You'll want to make sure you're trying at the right time of the month. FDA-approved home tests can tell you when you're ovulating. See a doctor if you're not having regular periods, which could indicate you're not ovulating.

Keep in mind your age. It's harder for women over 30 to get pregnant, and after 40 it's even more difficult. See your doctor sooner than the recommended year if you're over 30 and still trying to conceive.

Another culprit could be uterine fibroids. These growths of muscle and tissue inside the uterus are very common in women of childbearing age, especially if they're African-American or if they're overweight. You might not have any symptoms, or you might have lower back pain, heavy or painful periods, or miscarriages. The Reproductive Health package outlines other symptoms, as well as the many treatment options available. The good news is that fibroids don't have to get in the way of having children.

As the fact sheets in the Reproductive Health package point out, your partner can also affect your chances of getting pregnant. Men can be infertile, and factors like not getting enough rest or being under too much stress can affect the amount and health of the sperm he produces. Don't rule out asking the doctor about tests to look at your guy's fertility, too.

If you're having problems getting pregnant, now's the time to find out what's going on. Start your investigation with the publications in the Reproductive Health package. There are three easy ways to place your order:

* Send your name and address to Reproductive Health, Pueblo, Colorado 81009.

* Visit www.pueblo.gsa.gov/rc/n86reproductivehealth.htm to place your order online or to read or print these and hundreds of other federal publications for free.

* Or call toll-free 1 (888) 8 PUEBLO. That's 1 (888) 878-3256, weekdays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time, and ask for the Reproductive Health package.

2. GUIDE TO LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE
As you or a loved one get older, the chances that you'll need some kind of extended care increase. In fact, 55 percent of people ages 85 or older need long-term care. And paying for a nursing home, chore services, or in-home health aides can be expensive. If you're looking for a way to cover these expenses, long-term care insurance may be the answer. Make sure to research all your options before you buy, and make sure you read the Guide to Long-Term Care Insurance offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and America's Health Insurance Plans. This free brochure answers many questions you might have, including how much insurance can cost, what kinds are available, and what they cover. You'll even find a checklist of questions to help you compare policies.

For a copy, send your name and address to the Federal Citizen Information Center, Dept. 579T, Pueblo, CO 81009. Or call toll-free 1 (888) 8 PUEBLO, that's 1 (888) 878-3256, and ask for Item 579T. And visit
www.pueblo.gsa.gov to read or print this and hundreds of other FCIC publications for free.

3. NINE WAYS TO LOWER YOUR AUTO INSURANCE COSTS
Sometimes it takes more than a lizard to lower your auto insurance rates. Having a good driving record helps, but so does shopping around for the best rates, asking about safe driver or other discounts, and even requesting a higher deductible. Learn more about these and other strategies to keep your rates affordable in Nine Ways to Lower Your Auto Insurance Costs, a brochure from the Insurance Information Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There's even a table to help you compare discounts available from insurers when you're shopping around. For a copy, send your name, address, and a check or money order for $1.50 to the Federal Citizen Information Center, Dept. 305T, Pueblo, CO 81009. Or call toll-free 1 (888) 8 PUEBLO, that's 1 (888) 878-3256, and ask for Item 305T. Have your credit card handy.

Posted by Lou at 3:18 AM | Permalink

Bin Dive's Five Favorite Cover Songs

Cover songs are the ugly step-sister necessity of bar and wedding bands everywhere, yet they also seem to attract the already-famous who are happy to use covers to suck money from the music fan trough without actually putting forth much effort. This has been a staple of American music since the 78rpm vinyl disc was invented, allowing musicians and singers to copy, refresh, or completely remake some dusty zero into a current-day hero.

The 1960s was especially littered with the corpses of gone-nowhere originals like The Olympics' "Good Lovin'" or The Top Notes' "Twist and Shout" being turned into monster chart-toppers by bands like The Young Rascals, The Isley Brothers and The Beatles. Or if you were Carl Perkins, you were waking up pretty much every other weekend to find out someone was scabbing your rockabilly songs like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Summertime Blues" into records that would eclipse your own.

On the other hand, it's not hard to imagine Tennessee Ernie Ford going to bed every night praying ABBA might figure out some way to turn "Sixteen Tons" into the next "Dancing Queen."

Of course, there are tons of remarkable and notable remakes in the world. Here are five of our favorites that rank pretty high on our iPod playlist:

1. "Baby Now That I've Found You"
Original: The Foundations (1967)
Cover: Alison Krauss & Union Station (1995)

If I could be stranded on a desert island with a good-looking woman, 30 crates of tequila and just one cover song ever made in the history of recorded music, "Baby Now I've Found You" by Alison Krauss & Union Station would be it. And really, if I had to choose between the song and the tequila, a boatload of pirates would probably be pretty happy with the tequila.

If you were around during the summer of 1967, The Foundations found a way to turn throbbing, slice-my-wrists heartache into almost three minutes of the same sort bouncy happiness that any harried mom in 1967 had to shell out good money for. "Baby Now I've Found You" had a horn section that knew its business, a singer who had a great Caribbean accent, and backing vocals that made you sing along even if you couldn't carry a tune in a paper sack.

This is a song that I'll forever think of as beach music because at the time, Chicago AM-radio juggernauts WLS and WCFL were busy beating the living hell out of it on a bazillion tinny little transistor radios sitting on a bazillion beach blankets spread out on the Southeast Side sand along 98th Street and the lake, back when I was a kid in Calumet Park's summer day camp. Even now, it's hard to be sick of "Baby Now I've Found You" because if this song ever stops making you feel good, there's something really wrong with you, Jack.

Alison Krauss and Union Station is probably the most talented band of unassuming and humble Regular-Joe folks to land a recording contract. Krauss - who occasionally veers into pop and beyond and wins armfuls of Grammy awards - is an awesome fiddle player with a breathy, clear-as-a-cold-mountain-stream voice. Still, their bread and butter is bluegrass, a genre where the only kind of "beach music" is an Appalachian dirge about a beach collapsing into a coal mine and killing all the menfolk in town. That's exactly why this live AKUS version of "Baby Now I've Found You" - which is far more warm and intimate than the recorded version on their 1995 LP of the same name - turns the heartache of the original into one the prettiest damn songs you'll ever hear.

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2. "Brand New Key"
Original: Melanie (1971)
Cover: The Dollyrots (2007)

Before rollerblades, there was this innocent, ubiquitous little ditty from folkie-singer/songwriter Melanie Safka about a girl with a brand new pair of roller skates pining for (these days we'd call it stalking) a boy with a brand new key. It was innocent. It was cute. It was catchy. It was just odd enough to work. In fact, it worked so well that after about two weeks - in a world, mind you, where Internet file-sharing servers with 932,467,981,395,742,000 other songs at your immediate disposal hadn't been invented yet - this song got incredibly old and annoying incredibly fast.

"Brand New Key" was really nothing more than what it was: an adorable little AM-radio ditty adored by children and mothers and grandmothers waiting for someone to hurry the hell up and invent Branson, Mo. Today, "Brand New Key" would be one of those weird, kitschy little songs plucked from obscurity for an Apple iPod or Target commercial. Had she not been as socially conscious, socially relevant and fundamentally talented as Joan Baez - and if not for a voice that could go from plaintive ("Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma") to powerful ("Lay Down {Candles in the Rain"}) - Melanie might have joined Terry "Seasons in the Sun" Jacks and Sammy "Chevy Van" Johns on the same 1970s scrap heap of one-hit-wonder roadkill, duking it out with The Bay City Rollers every S!-A!-T-U-R!!!-D-A-Y!!! Night!!! Night!!!

I'm not sure what compelled one of the neatest neo-punker bands nobody's really heard of like The Dollyrots to raid someone's stack of old 45rpm records and turn "Brand New Key" into this neat little piece of work on their 2007 LP Because I'm Awesome. No matter how it came about, I'm just glad it did.

Really, this is the problem I've had with just about every garage/bar band I've ever heard since 1979: The really good ones worth a record deal find a way to mold the original into something that sounds like "them," not the closest approximation to the record. If you think there's no truth to that, Eddie Van Halen might suggest you go home, fire up his version of "You Really Got Me" off the first album - written when Van Halen was basically still a garage band - and go screw yourself.

Otherwise, extra points go to The Dollyrots and singer/bassist babe Kelly Ogden for coming up with something close to what I imagine Joan Jett might do if she got bored and decided she needed some harmless little song to fuck with.

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3. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
Original: The Rolling Stones (1964)
Cover: Devo (1978)

It's one thing to have a whacked-out cover song make you wince. It's another thing to have it come along and scare you.

Keith Richards' fuzzed-out intro to "Satisfaction" - which he says came to him in his sleep - is one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock history. Fortunately, it's the intro to THE song that put the Rolling Stones on the map. Back then, this song was actually welcome relief to those of us who wouldn't have minded if any plane carrying the Beatles crashed into the Atlantic Ocean because - contrary to popular belief - the whole country didn't run out and buy electric guitars and burn their Sam Cooke records two seconds after Ed Sullivan introduced them. Screw John, Paul, George and Ringo - holding some girl's hand was for lightweights. Mick was smoking cigarettes and trying to lay some girl. And he was doing his own laundry trying to get his shirts as white as they could be.

Then came Devo, a band that - near as anyone could tell at the time - might as well have been refugees from some Communist bloc chess club who decided to defect to Ohio and start the most disturbing techno-pop band ever. Their debut LP, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, featured the most unsettling cover song ever in American recording industry history. They must have been either bored or stoned enough to record this, because apart from the lyrics, this jerky, spazzed-out version of an otherwise perfectly good Stones song bore little resemblance to the original.

That's not to say I don't like this Devo gem. Quite the contrary. There's something quite remarkable about a Stones song that makes you feel like Charles Manson has shown up to stare at you for two minutes and forty seconds every time you fire it up.

[NOTE: The audio has been disabled due to a copyright claim, so use your imagination - or go buy the record.]

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4. "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
Original: John Denver (1971)
Cover: Jason & The Scorchers (1995)

From the time he showed up during the early 1970s, John Denver was guy whose music you either loved or hated. Even if you hated it - and by God, there was plenty enough for a 1970s teenager to hate - you could probably still stand it enough to sit there with an acoustic guitar trying to figure out the signature riff at the beginning of "Rocky Mountain High" by ear to impress the girls (but only after you gave up trying to figure out how to play "Stairway to Heaven.") Still, the premier of China liked "Take Me Home, Country Roads" enough that during a trip to the United States to get a few hundred cassette-tape copies, ordered damn near every radio station in China to play it. This made Denver - unbeknownst to him until a decade or two later - a massive superstar in China.

Meanwhile, Jason & the Scorchers - a Nashville cowpunk band that deserved to be far bigger than it turned out to be - decided to cook up its own version of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" on their 1995 LP A Blazing Grace. You can find a homemade, live version of it here. The video quality blows and I'm not sure it captures a full dose of guitarist Warner Hodges, but the audio is better than average and the band stays pretty true to the album track). My guess is the "Country Roads" point in the Scorchers' career came when someone in the band said, "I swear to God, if I hear that damn song one more damn time . . . " because the band doesn't really cover the song as much as it rips its head off, pisses vinegar down its throat, and gives it a good three-minute ass-kicking.

While the band would also do an honorable-mention version of the Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown" (despite demonstrating how wrong things could could go in 1986 when an over-acting, over-dressed and over-coiffed band ends up in the hands of a music video director with far more cameras than he deserved to have - think of every music video made by Poison), Jason & the Scorchers would disband before it might have occurred to someone in the band to drag "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" out to the woodshed, too.

Jason & the Scorchers - Take Me Home, Country Roads
Found at skreemr.com

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5. "Roll Over Beethoven"
Original: Chuck Berry (1956)
Remake: Electric Light Orchestra (1973)

There's been a long-standing argument/debate that had he not been black, Chuck Berry - not Elvis Presley - would be considered the true King of Rock 'N' Roll. Which would in turn be naturally left to the followers of Jerry Lee Lewis to debate and argue. Say what you like fer or agin' Elvis or Jerry Lee, few might disagree that Chuck Berry was to 1957 what Jimi Hendrix was to 1967. Until those points in time - Les Paul notwithstanding - nobody had ever heard shit like that come out of a guitar player, much less a black guitar player. Like "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven" was packed with Berry's legendary wild-eyed duck walkin' down-on-his-knees riffs, runs, and hooks that would go on to inspire some of the hugest British Invasion bands and - thank God! - drive a giant stake into the heart of the crooner/doo-wop era.

About 20 years later, Electric Light Orchestra would turn "Roll Over Beethoven" into something that had us thinking what everyone more accustomed to Pat Boone or The Drifters were probably thinking when they first heard Berry's version: "What the fuck is THIS??" Seventeen seconds of "Beethoven's Fifth" by the cellos and violins of this British light orchestra (hence the "light orchestra" part of the ELO name) crashing head-on into an even slicker, more electrified incarnation of Berry's signature intro - and then careening between three-chord rock rave-up and classical-orchestra jam for another four-plus minutes on the single version - was pretty fucking amazing.

But that was the genius of Jeff Lynne, who didn't just rehab a classic ride but kept the frame and re-engineered the hell out of the whole bucket of bolts into a song even longer - and more original - than the original.

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See what else is in the Beachwood Bins. Bin Dive explores rock's secret history through the bargain bins and your old stack of records. Comments - and submissions - welcome. You must include a real name to be considered for publication.

Posted by Don at 3:07 AM | Permalink

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